Jonathan and Jackie Johnson, the parents of Kendrick Johnson, are still fighting for justice in their son’s case. Photo: courtesy of Jackie Johnson

For parents Kenneth and Jackie Johnson, the disappearance of their 17-year-old son, Kendrick Johnson, a devoted student-athlete at his Valdosta, Georgia, high school remains a traumatic memory after the January 11, 2013, discovery of his body in a rolled-up wrestling mat in his school’s gymnasium one day after he went missing during school hours.

Continuing their 11-year demand for transparency and accountability, in pushing their case to federal court, the Johnsons have long sought answers to their decade-long grievance against the school district, local and state investigators, the federal government, and local media toward identifying those they believe were responsible for his death. (See The Final Call, Vol. 43 No. 3)

Mrs. Johnson said both she and her husband will fight as long as it takes for the truth to be made known and for the guilty party or parties to be held responsible for their son’s disappearance and alleged murder.

“It’s hurtful. I’m still suffering every day from the pain of losing Kendrick. It’s just really no words, you just wonder how my son can get killed at school and it seems like the entire world doesn’t even care,” Mrs. Johnson said about the odd and mysterious death of their youngest son.

Kendrick Johnson, a three-letter student-athlete at Lowndes County High School in Valdosta, Georgia, had dreams of attending The University of Florida and playing professional football in the NFL. Photo: courtesy of Jackie Johnson

“It seems like me and Mr. Johnson are in a fight all by ourselves and we, as parents, we’re going to continue to fight for Kendrick no matter how hard it gets. My son deserves justice.”

Explaining how over the years the family has endured racist and anonymous phone calls, text messages, indifference toward their concerns, and even vandalism to their son’s gravesite, Mrs. Johnson said efforts to intimidate or frighten her family, particularly after they rejected the official narrative surrounding her son’s death, has been both troubling and stressful.

She said photographic evidence of bruising and other bodily injuries as identified by an independent forensic pathologist has yet to be considered by local, state, and federal investigators.

“The text messages were saying ugly things about Kendrick and how he died and trying to paint an (ugly) picture of who he was, but they can’t paint a picture of who he was, but we can tell them who Kendrick was,” Mrs. Johnson continued. “It’s been 11 years’ worth of lies, you name it, they’ve tried it all with Kendrick. They’re still lying to this day. They’ve tried to call him a thug and a member of a gang.”

Kendrick’s father, Kenneth Johnson, told The Final Call that both he and his wife have suffered the frustrations of what they believe is a pattern of stonewalling and cover-ups to protect the guilty. He said neither the school district nor the authorities have taken their demand for justice seriously. They also allege those responsible for investigating what they believe is a clear-cut case of an assault and murder on school property are continuing to block the truth from being made known.

“It’s been a long hard 11-plus years, it’s really, really, tough for anyone to go through what we have endured,” Mr. Johnson said. “We’re not really receiving any support from the community because we’re in a town where Black people are afraid. They’re afraid to speak out to the people in power, who won’t let them prosper in the town, and that’s what they’re afraid of and that’s what we’ve been dealing with,” he added.

“This goes for the pastors, the politicians, and the city’s ‘supposed-to-be-leaders,’” he insisted. “I have a city councilman who told me that he can’t fight against these people; (and) told me specifically that he’s not going to fight against these White folks for what I’m going through.

He actually told me he couldn’t do it.” He described the city of Valdosta as a town where Black people must “know their place” and to go-along-to-get-along or suffer consequences for rocking the boat.

“They’ll fight for so long and then they’ll quit,” he said of the social and political climate in his part of Georgia.

‘Justice stands afar off’

According to a February 28 motion filed with the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, in Kenneth Johnson, et al, v. Georgia Bureau of Investigations, et al, the Johnson family’s civil action against the state argued, in its ongoing grievance with the GBI’s (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) handling of the investigation of Kendrick’s disappearance and death, that:

A. The Uncontested Facts Make Clear That Defendant-GBI Deprived Plaintiffs of Life and Liberty Pursuant To U.S. Supreme Court in that the 14th Amendment states in part that:

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

B. The GBI’s Actions As Arm Of State Does Not Extend State Immunity Under The Eleventh Amendment, their motion continued in reference to a 1978 “U.S. Supreme Court abrogation of Eleventh Amendment immunity in a Fourteenth Amendment context stating that:

“Justice Stevens, writing for the majority in Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. at 693-94, recognized that the Act’s broad language speaking to “any action or proceeding to enforce . . . [42 U.S.C. § 1983]” literally applied to actions against states.

“The State has been an accessory to murder for more than a decade and now it wants the federal courts to bail them out under the Eleventh Amendment when in fact the Fourteenth amendment is applicable.

“When Defendant-GBI falsified state government documents, the States immunity under the Eleventh Amendment was void and provisions under the Fourteenth Amendment are then turned to for enforcement and equitable relief for citizens damaged by its actions,” their motion continues.

C. Granting Leave to Amend the Complaint and proceeding to discovery is the appropriate Remedy.

“The facts and information detailed in the Third Amended Complaint (Doc. 73, Att. 2) warrant adding the Georgia Office of the Attorney General, Georgia Department of Public Health, State Bar of Georgia, Gray Television, Inc., CNHI, LLC. and Elliot Blackburn Law as Defendants in this matter,” the Plaintiffs’ motion argues in their petition to the court requesting due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Mr. Jonathan Burrs, spokesperson for the Johnson Family and representative of the Kendrick Johnson Foundation, said he and the family allege that Kendrick was murdered at the school, during school hours, and without adult supervision in the gymnasium where his body was found a day after he went missing.

“The officials that investigated the incident fabricated an accidental death narrative (while) the forensic and material evidence in the case, as well as an independent forensic examination and autopsy, determined that Kendrick Johnson was murdered,” Mr. Burrs said of the incident inside Lowndes County High School between January 10-11, 2013.

Describing how the Johnson Family filed a federal Freedom of Information Act request regarding the investigation surrounding their son’s death, Mr. Burrs said an official reply from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner negated parts of the local investigation and its conclusion.

“The evidence, when you put it all together, the totality of circumstance and the preponderance of evidence, show that they fabricated everything from the time they took pictures through the time that the (state) medical examiner did her official report in 2013,” Mr. Burrs said of the inconsistencies between the local and federal evidence collected and reviewed. “The deposition testimony in 2019, and then the Sheriff’s synopsis in 2022, they were all staged and fabricated.”

In addition to their federal lawsuit, the Johnsons filed complaints with the U.S. Attorney in Atlanta, Georgia, for the Northern District as well as the Acting Assistant Attorneys General for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.,” Mr. Burrs said of the Johnson family’s ordeal—best described as a nightmare.

“And in the criminal division, they filed complaints with them and supplied an immense amount of supporting evidence for their claims, and so far, there’s been no response, they have not even as much as assigned a reference number to the claim for the Johnson’s to check on the status of their claim with the Department of Justice, something that should be relatively standard,” he said.

Describing multiple accounts and changing narratives over how and why Kendrick Johnson’s internal organs disappeared after his body was taken into custody by the state crime lab, Mr. Burrs said questions surrounding this issue created additional layers to the mystery and confusion around what really happened to Kendrick Johnson on the local, county, state, and federal levels.

Nation of Islam Student Minister Aaron Muhammad of Mosque No. 100 in nearby Albany, Georgia, told The Final Call that the lack of justice, whether in America or in other places around the world, continues to perplex and confound a tired and dissatisfied humanity and that the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan’s Saviours’ Day message on February 25 in Detroit provided clear insights.

“The Minister is very clear, and what I (saw) at the Saviours’ Day address (was) the exposure of a mindset when he said that what we see abroad will be seen at our doorstep. When we’re looking at situations locally, nationally, or abroad, we have to look at the situation from the perspective of God, ‘so the God-conscious individual is less likely to misperceive reality,’” he quoted from page 53 from the book, “Closing the Gap: Inner Views of the Heart, Soul and Mind of The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.”

“We know in this hour, these are the Days of Allah, so Allah (God), the Minister said, is moving all the chess pieces on the board, but how do we perceive that?” Student Minister Muhammad asked regarding the challenges facing young people for decades in Southwest Georgia. “As the scripture says:

‘Justice stands afar off, for truth has fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter …’ so we cannot receive justice without the truth,” he insisted.