Police in Georgia have decided to reopen the case of Kendrick Johnson, who was found dead inside of a rolled-up gym mattress after a dispute with two white students in January 2013, according to WSBTV.
Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk told the local news outlet that their office had been asking federal authorities for all documents related to the case for years. As Blavity previously reported, in 2016 the Justice Department said they were unable to provide Johnson’s family “with more definitive answers about Kendrick’s tragic death,” following a lengthy investigation.
But now, after years of waiting, federal authorities have handed over 17 boxes of documents, including computer towers and computer drives, to Paulk and his team, allowing them to reopen the case.
Paulk said he has spoken to Johnson’s family and told them that they would be reopening the case. The family has repeatedly disputed the police’s determination that Johnson fell into an upright gym mat while trying to find one of his shoes and accidentally suffocated in the Lowndes County High School gym.
Private autopsies done by the family showed Johnson had suffered “unexplained, apparent non-accidental blunt force trauma” and a private pathologist said the teenager died from blunt force trauma to his neck, as Blavity previously reported.
“My son got into an altercation and it led up to his death,” Kendrick’s mother, Jacquelyn Johnson, told ABC 27.
Since the racial justice protests of 2020, there have been multiple petitions to reopen Kendrick’s case, as Blavity previously reported. One of the petitions brought in nearly two million signatures and alleged another student at the school, Brian Bell, killed Kendrick over jealousy.
“Both Brian Bell and Ryan Hall, who is Brian Bell’s friend, had met Kendrick Johnson in the gym, and then Brian Bell killed Kendrick Johnson. Brian Bell has also stated that he killed Kendrick Johnson multiple times over the phone,” the petition read.
Attorney Ben Crump shared the petition on Twitter and wrote that the “killer was never held accountable.”
What happened to #KendrickJohnson in 2012 is HORRIFIC, yet his killer was never held accountable. Please sign this petition & spread the word that federal authorities need to reopen this case, so Kendrick & his family can get the justice they deserve!! https://t.co/7ORW7ugLCn
— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) June 6, 2020
The Change.org petition includes several allegations shared by news outlets about why Kendrick and Bell were fighting, claiming their dispute was over a Bell’s girlfriend sleeping with Kendrick.
The petition alleges that Bell has admitted multiple times that he killed Kendrick after the two fought over his girlfriend and that he threatened others to keep quiet about it.
“According to the second statement, Branden Bell allegedly said that Brian Bell had told Ryan Hall that if he did not keep quiet and help him move Kendrick Johnson’s body, his father, who is Rick Bell who is a retired FBI. agent would make sure that he would pay for it,” the petition explained.
CNN backed up concerns about Bell’s connections to the FBI after noting that video camera footage had been cut out from the school’s tapes.
Paulk said on Tuesday that he would be working with his staff to interview new people to see if anything was missed during their initial investigation.