Kendrick Johnson’s family drops lawsuit, but intends to refile, attorney says

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Kendrick Johnson (Credit: Johnson family)

The family of Kendrick Johnson, who was found dead at a Georgia high school three years ago, has temporarily withdrawn a wrongful death lawsuit that includes two former schoolmates as defendants.

Attorney Chevene King told CNN that he filed Tuesday for a motion for dismissal but it is a procedural move.

“We will be refiling in the coming months,” he said. “We understand the federal investigation is ongoing and this gives us an opportunity to strengthen our case.”

Kendrick Johnson, 17, was found dead at Lowndes High School in January 2013. Authorities said his death was an accident; his family believes he was killed.

The Department of Justice is investigating the case to determine whether Johnson’s civil rights were violated or there was a conspiracy in the case.

“We certainly want to take advantage of the additional time,” the lawyer for Johnson’s family said.

In January 2015, Johnson’s parents filed a $100 million lawsuit against dozens of local and state officials and named, among others, former schoolmates Brian Bell, Branden Bell and the Bells’ father, FBI Special Agent Rick Bell, as defendants of a wrongful death claim.

The Bells have adamantly denied any involvement in Johnson’s death.

The federal investigation launched in October 2013. Last year, the Justice Department asked a judge in Lowndes County to block other attorneys from collecting evidence in that civil suit. That request was denied.

An accident or a homicide?

Johnson, 17, disappeared between classes at Lowndes High School on January 10, 2013. His body was found in a rolled gym mat the next day.

According to the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office, there were no witnesses. State and local investigators said Johnson died accidentally, after getting stuck in the mat while reaching for a shoe.

Johnson’s parents later ordered an independent autopsy. A pathologist hired by Johnson’s parents found evidence of “unexplained, apparent nonaccidental blunt force trauma” to the teen’s neck.

He said Johnson’s death was the result of a homicide.