The investigation into the death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson has officially been reopened by a Georgia sheriff. Johnson’s body was found rolled up in a gym mat at his high school in 2013.
Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk told ABC News on Wednesday (March 10) he reopened the investigation after obtaining 17 boxes of files from the Department of Justice’s two-and-a-half year investigation.
“People ask me was it an accident or a murder, and I say I can’t give you an opinion until I see every bit of evidence that we have,” Paulk said. Paulk wasn’t in office at the time of the original investigation. He called the DOJ’s investigation file “a good piece of the puzzle that was missing.”
Authorities with the DOJ closed their investigation into Kendrick’s death in 2016, but didn’t give answers on whether the teens civil rights had been violated. At the time, the Department released a statement saying its investigators “found insufficient evidence to support federal criminal charges.”
Atlanta civil rights activist Marcus Coleman, has for years been working with Kendrick’s parents, Kenneth and Jaquelyn Johnson, to get a new investigation. Coleman said the teen’s family is “cautiously optimistic” that the sheriff will give the case an exhaustive reexamination.
“They’ve been through eight years of hell. They’ve had a lot of letdowns,” Coleman told the outlet. “Now that it’s back in the hands of the sheriff’s department, we’re literally back to square one.”
In the years since their son’s death, Kendrick’s parents accused fellow students of foul play the led to his death. They’ve filed several civil lawsuits that accused school officials, local law enforcement officers, and state medical examiners of covering up what happened to their son. One of the lawsuits was thrown out by Lowndes County Superior Court Judge Richard Porter in 2017 who wrote at the time the Johnsons “had no evidence to support their claims."
No one has ever faced charges in connection with Kendrick’s death.
Paulk said his investigation will compare the findings of the sheriff’s office in 2013 and the investigation by the DOJ, and estimated spending upwards of six months on it.
“There’s no reason to rush to judgment,” the sheriff said. “It’s been eight years.”
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