UPDATE Friday, 4:30 p.m. — A day after Kendrick Johnson's family dismissed a lawsuit against the Harrington Funeral Home, the family refiled the same suit.
The dismissal was filed at 4:51 p.m. May 20 in the State Court of Lowndes County. At 4:40 p.m. May 21, the family filed the same lawsuit again in the state court.
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VALDOSTA — Kendrick Johnson's family filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit against Harrington Funeral Home earlier this month after a years-long legal battle.
In 2014, Kendrick "KJ" Johnson’s parents filed a civil lawsuit against the Harrington Funeral Home, claiming it negligently handled their son’s remains and deliberately withheld information about the condition of his body.
Kendrick’s lifeless body was found upside down inside a rolled-up athletic mat at Lowndes High School Jan. 11, 2013. The Harrington Funeral Home received the body several days after a Georgia Bureau of Investigation autopsy determined the 17-year-old died as a result of an accident.
Roy Copeland, a Valdosta-based attorney, represented Harrington during the legal battle and said the Johnson family filed the motion for dismissal in state court under Judge Ellen Golden.
Copeland said he didn't know why the family decided to end the lawsuit
"We are elated that it came to an end," Copeland said. "This vindicates Mr. Harrington and his funeral home."
In the suit, filed in the State Court of Lowndes County, Kenneth and Jacqueline Johnson claimed funeral director Antonio Harrington intentionally interfered with an investigation into their son's death.
The Johnsons maintain Kendrick was the victim of wrongdoing and that local law-enforcement officials and others covered up the cause of his death.
The suit stated Harrington expressed doubts about Kendrick’s death being accidental after receiving the body. It also claimed the funeral director disposed of Kendrick’s internal organs, brain and clothes in an attempt to “interfere” with the investigation by the sheriff's office and the GBI.
The suit said Harrington did not inform the Johnsons of the “true condition” of Kendrick’s body before burial, causing the family emotional distress when a second autopsy, commissioned by the parents, revealed their son's internal organs had been replaced with old newspapers.
In 2014, the Georgia Board of Funeral Service reviewed the Johnsons' complaint and found no wrongdoing in how Harrington Funeral Home handled the body.
The board said in a letter to the Johnson family that Harrington Funeral Home’s decision to replace the autopsied organs with newspapers is not considered “best practice” for embalming; however, according to the 2014 report, filling a body cavity “is a necessary preparation to present a deceased body for public viewing.”
Thomas Lynn is a government and education reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at (229)244-3400 ext. 1256