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Saturday, June 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Feds Seek Stay in Civil Suit in Teen’s Death

VALDOSTA, Ga. (CN )- The U.S. Justice Department is seeking to stop the gathering of evidence in a wrongful-death case of a 16-year-old whose body was found rolled up in a gym mat at his high school three years ago.

Shortly after the macabre discovery, the state medical examiner ruled that Kendrick Johnson's death at the school was a freak accident.

His parents, however, never accepted this conclusion and on Oct. 23, 2015, filed a $100 million civil suit.

Now, the Justice Department has asked a Lowndes County judge to stop attorneys for the family to stop gathering evidence for the civil suit.

The agency is seeking a 180-day stay in discovery, to allow a federal criminal investigation to move forward.

Johnson's family has long maintained that Kendrick was lured to the gymnasium at Lowndes High School on Jan. 10, 2013, by an unidentified female student.

It was then, the Johnsons claim, that their son was violently assaulted by two other students Brian and Branden Bell, whose father, Rick Bell, is an FBI special agent.

All three Bells are named as defendants in the Johnson lawsuit.

Bell family attorney Brice Ladson has described the lawsuit as "frivolous" and the allegations against his clients untrue and defamatory.

The Johnsons go on to claim several local law enforcement officers engaged in a conspiracy to manufacture evidence of an accidental death.

In October, Lowndes County Judge J. Richard Porter dismissed nine current and former employees of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation from the case.

Of the latest turn in the case, Theodore Freeman, an attorney representing Lowndes County Board of Education, told Courthouse News, "The government is concerned that if depositions are given by certain witnesses, it may have a chilling effect on the testimony of the witnesses and it may compromise the government's investigation."

"This is a day late and a dollar short," Freeman continued. "The government has been investigating this for over two years. They come in, and they say they need more time to investigate it. Meanwhile the defendants are facing a $100 million lawsuit against them."

"We don't think it's appropriate for the government to step in at such a late date when a $100 million is being faced. I think that's the consensus of all of the defendants in the case. They haven't said anything about why they need six more months."

Freeman said there will be a hearing on November 4 in Valdosta where the court will make a decision if they will allow the government to intervene, and if so, if it will grant the government's motion to stay. The United States attorneys office is representing the government and could not be reached for comment.

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