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Gazette Premium Content Parents sue Georgia school system in gym mat death

Associated Press Updated: July 29, 2014 at 11:47 am

VALDOSTA, Ga. (AP) — The parents of a south Georgia teenager found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat at school filed a wrongful death lawsuit against local school administrators Monday.

Classmates found the body of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson of Valdosta in the middle of a mat propped upright against the wall of their high school gym Jan. 11, 2013. Sheriff's investigators concluded that the teenager died in a freak accident, having become stuck upside down in the center of the mat while trying to retrieve a gym shoe. But his parents have long insisted somebody killed him.

The lawsuit filed Monday in Lowndes County Superior Court seeks to hold the county school board, school superintendent and the principal of Lowndes High School responsible. It says Johnson died "at the hands of one or more students while upon the property of Lowndes High School and during its normal hours of operation."

The school board's attorney, Warren Turner, wrote in an email Tuesday that the district had not been served with the lawsuit.

"Therefore, it would be premature and inappropriate to make a public comment on this matter at this time," he wrote.

U.S. Attorney Michael Moore ordered a federal review of Johnson's death Oct. 31. No findings have been released nine months later.

The lawsuit by Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson sheds little new light on the case. It mentions that Johnson had been in a fight with another student during a bus trip to a football game a year before his death. The lawsuit also blames school officials for not interviewing classmates "who witnessed incidents of harassment and threats" against Johnson.

The lawsuit doesn't specifically allege that the same student who fought with Johnson on the bus trip had a role in his death. Lowndes County sheriff's investigators have said they ruled out that student as a possible suspect after surveillance camera footage from the school showed he never entered the gym around the time Johnson went missing Jan. 10, 2013.

Johnson's parents are seeking unspecified monetary damages from the school system.

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