Feds seize phones, computers in gym mat death investigation

AP News
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Posted: Jul 23, 2015 7:43 PM

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Federal authorities seized cellphones, computers and other electronics from classmates of a Georgia teenager found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat at his high school, an attorney for the family said Thursday.

The body of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson was discovered in the center of an upright mat propped against the gym wall at Lowndes High School on Jan. 11, 2013. A federal investigation into his bizarre death remains unresolved more than two years later.

Sheriff's investigators long ago concluded Johnson died in a freak accident, getting stuck upside down inside the mat and unable to breathe. His parents have insisted Johnson was killed and have filed a wrongful death lawsuit naming two brothers targeted by federal search warrants this week.

Brice Ladson, an attorney for the family whose items were seized, said U.S. marshals came to the parents' home at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday with a warrant authorizing them to take "cellphones, laptops, cameras — anything containing any kind of electronic communications." Similar warrants were served on the two brothers, who have graduated from high school and left home, as well as the girlfriend of one of the young men, Ladson said.

Information in the warrants revealed they were issued in conjunction with a federal grand jury investigation into Johnson's death, Ladson said, specifically regarding issues "related to alleged witness tampering."

"They're extremely upset about this," Ladson said of the targeted family. "It's all rumor, innuendo and suspicion — not evidence that any of these clients had anything to do with the tragic death of Kendrick Johnson."

The Associated Press is not naming the targeted brothers or their parents because they have not been charged with any crimes. Ladson has filed a countersuit on behalf of the family saying Johnson's parents, Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson, defamed them by falsely accusing them of murder.

U.S. Attorney Michael Moore of the Middle District of Georgia announced a federal investigation into Johnson's death in October 2013. No findings of that investigation have been released.

Moore declined to comment on the warrants or other aspects of the case when reached by phone Thursday.

In April, the Rev. Floyd Rose, president of the Lowndes County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said federal authorities need to end their investigation if there's no evidence of a crime. Rose said the inquiry has "cost taxpayers too much money and the families too much grief and caused the community too much confusion."

Ladson said he's concerned that devices seized from the family include communications that are protected by attorney-client privilege in relation to the civil lawsuits surrounding Johnson's death.