After being called a liar, a South Georgia sheriff offers to pay $500,000 of his own money to anyone who could prove he’s not telling the truth about his findings about the death of a black high school athlete nine years ago. The parents of the deceased child have denied official reports that their son’s death was an accident.
Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk released a statement saying he would give half a million to anyone who provides information that could lead to an arrest and conviction in the death of Kendrick Johnson. This statement comes days after he said he and two other officers reviewed all the evidence (17 boxes full) related to the case and concluded that no crime was committed.
Ashley Paulk, Lowndes County Sheriff (WSB video screenshot)
Johnson’s death nine years ago and the investigation surrounding it drew the national spotlight to the county near the Georgia-Florida border.
The case received renewed attention last year with the release of the documentary Finding Kendrick Johnson, directed by Jason Pollock. The film questions the veracity of several law enforcement officers working on the case and, with family support, proposes that two white brothers killed Johnson, a claim that has been refuted by federal investigators.
In 2013, Johnson, an African-American teenager from Valdosta, was found dead on a rolled-up exercise mat in his high school’s gym.
His mother, Jacqueline Johnson, told the Guardian that no one had looked for him when the family reported he had not returned home from school. Her youngest child was found around 10:30 am on January 11, 2013, head down on a rolled up wrestling mat standing upright in the gym at Lowndes High School.
Four months later, after what the Johnson family saw as a shoddy investigation, the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office closed the case and declared it a “strange accident” caused by the victim climbing the mat to get around to get his sneaker. However, Johnson’s relatives did not believe this explanation.
After watching surveillance video from the gym, the family reportedly noticed gaps in the footage. They also claimed that the district medical examiner was not called to the school until six hours after the students found him and notified the school administration. Georgian law requires that the family be notified immediately.
On Thursday, Jan. 24, Paulk released a 16-page document confirming the original explanation that the teen’s untimely death was an accident and citing a state coroner who ruled in 2013 that the cause of death was “positional asphyxia.” , caused by him standing upside down on the mat, which prevented him from breathing.
Kenneth and Jacqueline Johnson said they had evidence he was lying.
The New York Times reports that the family independently hired William R. Anderson, a forensic pathologist, to review their son’s autopsy. He found that the teenager actually died from blunt trauma to the right side of the boy’s neck, near the jaw.
The father said: “The truth is the truth. You can’t turn a murder into an accident.”
Both examinations, Anderson’s and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s coroner’s, were five months apart.
Paulk dismissed the family’s report, saying another report by the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner came to the same conclusion as the GBI. OAF originally said Johnson’s death was accidental and caused by asphyxia, but has been amended. The teen’s cause of death is currently listed as “undetermined” in her report.
On Monday, January 31, the sheriff released a statement doubling down on the validity of his findings.
“Following the release of my summary of the federal files on the Kendrick Johnson case, his parents called me a liar and continue to claim that Kendrick was murdered,” the publication began.
The statement continued, “Based on these testimonies, I am personally offering – by my own resources – a half-million dollar (US$500,000.00) reward in suspected murder to anyone who presents information leading to the arrest and conviction of any person Kendrick Johnson at Lowndes High School.”
The Sheriff’s reward, according to him, is a gesture to urge him toward the Pearl Gates. In addition to his $500,000, he is suggested that others interested in adding to the pot should do so. He did not list where those dollars might be sent.
Paulk claims the validity of his report is supported by the inclusion of intelligence from the Justice Department, the FBI, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the US Attorney for Central Georgia and several other law enforcement agencies.
Among the material submitted in evidence are testimonies from 58 people given before a federal grand jury and the two additional autopsy reports from Anderson and the Department of Defense.
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