A second local investigation into the 2013 death of Kendrick Johnson closed on Wednesday (Jan. 26) with no criminal charges filed, NBC News reports.
Johnson, 17, was a sophomore at Lowndes County High School in Valdosta, Ga., where his body was found upside down in a wrestling mat on Jan. 11, 2013. An initial investigation determined that he died of asphyxiation after accidentally slipping into the center of the mat when trying to retrieve his sneakers.
The Lowndes County Sheriff's Office reopened the case in March amid allegations of a cover-up and discrepancies in the case.
On Wednesday, Sheriff Ashley Paulk detailed his findings of the second investigation in a 16-page document. It concluded that evidence and other information do “not produce anything to prove any criminal act by anyone that would have resulted in the death of Kendrick Johnson.”
Paulk’s report didn’t sit well with Johnson’s family, who never accepted the explanation that his death was accidental.
Local station WTXL reports that Johnson’s father, Kenneth Johnson, held a press conference Thursday (Jan. 27) outside the sheriff’s office. He pointed to alleged discrepancies among the multiple autopsies performed on his son, as well as several discrepancies in the investigation.
"Do not believe anything that this sheriff's department tells you. I will fight as long as I have to, to uncover what happened to Kendrick Johnson," Johnson said at the press conference, according to CNN.
Paulk’s report rejected “rumors and accusations” of a cover-up because multiple federal, state and local agencies were involved in the investigation.
According to Paulk, who was not sheriff when Johnson died, the teenager was last seen alive in a surveillance video inside the gym. It showed him “walking at a fast pace toward the area where the mats are stored” around 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 10, 2013. His body was discovered the next morning when a class entered the gym.
An autopsy conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation concluded that Johnson died of asphyxiation. But a private autopsy requested by the family found that the teen died of “non-accidental” blunt force trauma to his neck, leading them to believe foul play was involved.
Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson, Kendrick’s parents, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2015 against three individuals, alleging that they killed their son. They also charged that the death was covered up by Lowndes County school and law enforcement officials. But a judge in Lowndes County Superior Court ruled against them.
Race became an issue in the case. Johnson is Black while two of the teens his family accused in the lawsuit, brothers Branden and Brian Bell, are white. They each provided alibis, saying they were not near the gym where Kendrick Johnson was found. Neither of them were ever charged with a crime.
The family still maintains, however, that foul play did occur and vow to keep pushing forward until they find justice. “We got many options,” Kenneth Johnson told Atlanta’s WSB-TV. “There will be something in the near future that will rock this town.”