Sheriff’s examination finds no foul play in teen’s gym mat death

VALDOSTA, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia sheriff who last year reopened an investigation into the 2013 death of a teenager found inside a rolled-up gym mat at school has concluded that he There was no evidence of foul play after reviewing voluminous evidence collected by federal investigators.

Classmates from Lowndes High School in Valdosta found the body of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson on January 11, 2013. Sheriff’s investigators decided shortly after that Johnson died in a freak accident, being stuck upside down and unable to breathe while trying to retrieve a shoe that fell inside the vertical mat.

Johnson’s parents have long insisted that someone killed him and that school officials and law enforcement covered up the crime.

Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk, who was off duty when Johnson’s death was first investigated, agreed to take another look last March after the parents of the teenager helped him obtain the Department of Justice’s file on the death. The evidence on file filled 17 boxes.

In a written report released Wednesday, Paulk said all of the physical evidence, interviews and grand jury testimony “produce nothing to prove foul play by anyone that resulted in the death of Kendrick Johnson.”

The sheriff also bluntly dismissed the cover-up allegations, saying, “Anyone looking at this matter objectively would know that it would be impossible to cover up evidence due to the involvement of so many agencies and investigators.”

Federal authorities revealed little about their findings in 2016 when they closed their investigation into Johnson’s death. The Justice Department released a statement at the time saying that investigators “found insufficient evidence to support federal criminal charges.”

Johnson’s mother, Jaqueline Johnson, said she did not trust the sheriff’s findings.

“You didn’t find anything in 17 boxes? It’s the craziest lie you could have told,” she told WSB-TV. “We already knew what team you were on. You’re not on the justice team.”

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