Valdosta Daily Times

March 15, 2014

Subpoenas issued in KJ case

Federal grand jury investigating ‘possible’ civil rights violations

Adam Floyd
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — A federal grand jury is investigating whether civil rights or other federal laws were violated in the death of Lowndes High School student Kendrick Johnson 14 months ago.

Subpoenas issued to several of Johnson’s classmates and others confirmed U.S. District Attorney Michael Moore has submitted the Johnson case to a grand jury in Macon for investigation.

Moore has been reviewing the unusual case since October with the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He said at the outset his office could only prosecute if it was determined federal laws had been violated.

The grand jury subpoenas stated its investigation into the circumstances of the death focus on the “possible violation of federal law involving, but not limited to, civil rights.”

Johnson’s body was found in the old gym at Lowndes High School on Jan. 11, 2013. The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office conducted the investigation that concluded Johnson’s death was accidental, caused by positional asphyxia after he became stuck, upside down, upon crawling into the vertically stored gym mat to retrieve an athletic shoe.

His lifeless body was found by students in a gym class the day after he was recorded by a video surveillance camera entering the gym.

Johnson’s parents dispute the accidental death finding. They received a court order to exhume their son’s body and have it examined by a hired, independent pathologist. He attributed the death to “apparent non-accidental blunt force trauma.”

Several of Johnson’s classmates appeared before the grand jury Thursday. Their testimony was given under oath that prevents them from discussing it with anyone.

The subpoenas were originally sent to witnesses in February, but the grand jury was rescheduled due to inclement weather. Recipients received subpoenas for Thursday’s grand jury session earlier this week. The Johnson family attorney,  Benjamin Crump, told NewsOne that more than 100 subpoenas were issued.

Jim Elliott, the attorney representing Lowndes County Sheriff officials, said Friday no one from that office has received a grand jury subpoena or has been interviewed by the FBI to date.

Elliott said Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson also has not been subpoenaed, though he has spoken with the FBI.

FBI agents have also interviewed several former and current Lowndes High students in the past few months as part of U.S. Attorney Moore’s review of Johnson’s death.

And Lowndes County school officials received subpoenas in December for computer hard drives containing the high school’s surveillance videos the day Johnson entered the gym and the next day when his body was found.

Moore has said nothing about his review since he agreed to conduct it, but he did respond to a CNN reporter on the steps of the federal courthouse in Macon on Thursday.

 “We’re working methodically, and sometimes we remember we’re running a marathon instead of a sprint,” Moore was quoted by CNN. “It’s better to get it right than to get it fast. I’m satisfied that the FBI is moving forward at the appropriate speed, and they’re doing a fine job.”