There have been startling new developments regarding the death of Georgia teen Kendrick Johnson. Johnson’s body was found in a rolled up wrestling mat in a school gymnasium two years ago. His death was ruled an accident. The coroner concluded that Johnson was attempting to retrieve a sneaker when he became trapped in the upright mat and suffocated. Because of the late discovery of his body and the circumstances surrounding his death, there have been accusations of murder and an intentional cover-up by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department.
However, according to recent interviews and statements by an independent investigator working on behalf of the SCLC, there is no evidence to support that Johnson was murdered.Leigh Touchton has worked on the investigation for the past two years and holds a master’s in biology.
What was your first reaction when you heard about Kendrick Johnson’s death?
Shock and horror.
Why were you chosen for this investigation?
When he was found dead, I was serving as interim secretary for the Valdosta NAACP. I was a member of the Valdosta NAACP legal redress team. My duties were to interview public officials and write open records requests. Until the official LCSD investigation was closed, we couldn’t interview any officials because it was an open investigation. After it was closed, we wrote open records requests and we (the members of the Valdosta NAACP legal redress team) went and sat down with numerous local public officials: our county schools superintendent, the attorney for the sheriff, the sheriff and one of his deputies. We talked to school board members. We got the case file at that time it was redacted meaning the minor children’s names and photos were blocked due to a federal law called FERPA. We toured the Valdosta Crime Lab several times, we interviewed the director, we visited the body cooler refrigeration unit and looked at the alarms and record books, we saw the offices of crime lab personnel who are located right outside and saw the alarm that would go off if electricity were shut off, or if temperatures got too high or too low, and we were told there were back up generators in such a case as blackouts. We saw the ASCLAD accreditation records for this lab. At the time there were 13 crime lab workers, two from the LCSD and 11 from the Valdosta Police Dept. The chief forensic investigator is black. We had tours of the entire lab. We spoke with the school’s attorney who explained the situation about the redactions and videotape due to FERPA. I toured the old gym and were given a re-enactment of how he was found. At the very same time as our group was conducting this investigation, the Valdosta SCLC, led by Rev Floyd Rose, was also conducting a separate investigation.
In July of 2013 — at that point — our Valdosta NAACP branch had conducted official branch elections and I was the duly elected secretary, Pastor Matthew Loveday was the president. I was on a Georgia NAACP state conference call and Kenneth and Jackie Johnson were on the call as well as their attorney Chevene King. Due to false allegations, which I determined to be lies, not just misstatements of fact, I resigned because I was not going to be forced by any NAACP state president to get out in public and call people murderers publicly when there was no credible evidence to claim that a murder had been committed and when the family asking the NAACP for assistance and for money was not telling the truth. I was shouted down by other NAACP officers. I immediately resigned. So did most of the local NAACP officers, many of whom are professionals and church leaders. I have worked alongside Rev. Floyd Rose for 15 years. I’ve always been a member of his organization, Valdosta SCLC, which was previously the People’s Tribunal, so the chapter voted me into the lead investigator position. Rev. Rose had already conducted his investigation but we repeated all of our steps together and shared information that we had both obtained separately. We also wrote open records requests to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for the personnel records of Dr. William Anderson, the private pathologist who conducted the second autopsy on Kendrick Johnson’s embalmed body. What we received caused us to cast doubt on Anderson’s credibility. He was accused of unethical conduct when employed at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
How has the SCLC been involved?
SCLC has taken a much greater role in this case because before the LCSD closed their investigation, it was Rev. Rose who led the public rallies asking for the DOJ [U.S. Department of Justice] to come in and review the investigation. Rev. Rose also put up his house as collateral for Jackie Johnson, the mother of Kendrick, when the parents committed civil disobedience at the Lowndes Judicial complex. Rev. Rose as Pres of SCLC and I as a private citizen were constantly calling our public officials and begging them to call the DOJ and request an investigation, we contacted Michael Moore numerous times to ask him to open a review, we asked our sheriff to request this (the sheriff’s dept made public statement “we would welcome a review..) Rev. Rose allowed his fellowship hall to be used for meetings for the family, and he provided his church for the Al Sharpton rally in May 2013, at which more than $8,000 was raised. Sharpton asked for a portion of this money to be used for a reward. It wasn’t. After the case was closed, Rev. Rose was approached by a local businessman named Roy Taylor to offer a $10,000 reward along with SCLC for credible information leading to arrest. After three months there was no information brought forth (it was to go to Michael Moore and Chevene King) and the reward money was given back to the businessman. To this day the family has not set up a reward. The family says that the businessman who offered the reward, Roy Taylor, is related to Lowndes Supt Wes Taylor and that this is evidence of corruption in Lowndes County. The two men are not related.
What three facts do you think people should be aware of regarding the investigation?
Neither autopsy records a beating or any defensive wounds.
The second autopsy and the second pathologist are non-credible due to numerous reasons, which I can elaborate on if you would like.
After a grand jury was convened in Macon in March of 2013, no indictments were issued. The boys accused of an alleged murder have rock solid alibis.
Do you believe Kendrick Johnson was murdered? Why or why not?
I do not believe he was murdered. Based on the preponderance of the evidence and the fact that over 100 people would have to be lying and telling the same story for two years, risking the loss of their jobs, their retirement, jail time; I think the murder theory is not only false but also ridiculous and based only on wild speculation and outright fabrications. Based on the preponderance of medical evidence, the diagnosis of positional asphyxia is the only diagnosis that fits all the facts. Based on the videotape evidence there was no attack or dragging or stuffing of a body or unrolling or re-rolling of a mat. Based on witness testimony, phone records, videotapes, wrestling weigh-ins at an out-of-town tournament, there is no way that the accused boys could have been involved in his death.
You have made statements that the Johnson family has lied about Kendrick’s death and money raised by supporters for the family. On what do you base your statements?
Numerous statements were made that when we followed up on them, they were so outrageously false that they had to be made with malicious intent to lie. How much time do you have?
They claimed no one from the school system cared about their child or came to his funeral. I found out that Superintendent Wes Taylor and Assistant Superintendent David Troy (he is now employed as LODAC director here, a drug treatment facility, he happens to be black), both visited the family the night KJ was found. One coach spoke at his funeral. Numerous teachers attended his funeral. Two school board members attended his funeral, the chairman at the time, Fred Davis, a black man, and Fred Wetherington, who is the current chair. The funeral director, Tony Harrington, saw them and invited them to come sit up at the front. The father told the entire Georgia NAACP state conference that no one from the school attended his child’s funeral when over a dozen or more school officials attended it. A memorial service was held at the school for KJ. All of the school officials were horrified and distraught that he had died.
The father said that KJ had been in a fight with the accused right before his death. The fight had occurred over a year previously. The father said that the accused child’s father had invited KJ over to “finish the fight and it would be fair.” No one can be found who corroborates this version of events. Numerous school officials told me that the two kids had a scuffle on the school bus over a year before KJ died, and that afterward the two repaired their relationship, they worked on a science project together. KJ would spend the night at this boy’s house, and numerous people testified that they had a good friendship. I interviewed the school resource officer who drove KJ home from the football game (the scuffle happened on a football game bus, they were both on the team). She happens to be black. KJ rode home with her because she was friends with the family and his parents were not at the game. The other boy rode home with his parents who were at the game.
The parents said that Rev. Rose kept most of the $8,000 that was raised at the Al Sharpton rally. That is totally false. It was all given to the Johnson family. Who did not use any portion of it for a reward and to this day have not put forth a reward.
The parents told Dr. Joseph Lowery that “Rev. Rose was with the sheriff.” That is totally false, Rev. Rose is not controlled by any white or black person and he’s only with the truth.
The parents said that the body cooler at the Valdosta crime lab was set to a high temperature to cause the body to decompose. Those allegations are quite simply ridiculous.
The mother said that the medical examiners “cooked” her son’s body to hide evidence. These allegations are also quite simply ridiculous. Both autopsies identified “skin slippage” which is advanced decomposition that causes the skin to peel or blister.
The parents of KJ said that the reason they didn’t want the $10,000 reward to be offered by businessman Roy Taylor is because he’s related to school superintendent Wes Taylor. That is false. Wes Taylor is not from here and the two men are not related at all.
The family posted the photograph of Kendrick’s post-autopsy face on a giant poster in the middle of downtown Valdosta and all over social media and claimed he looks this way as a result of a beating. Both autopsies do not record any evidence of a beating. The photo was taken at the funeral home of his post-autopsy face before it had been reconstructed. In an autopsy, the skin is cut at the back of the head and the facial skin is peeled down away from the face so that the underlying muscles can be examined. There was no evidence that he was beaten, not on his face, not anywhere else. (except second autopsy claims “likely blunt force trauma right mandible further investigation needed”— paraphrasing from memory). The funeral home had not reconstructed his face. The family plastered this photograph next to that of Emmett Till and claimed the two deaths were analogous. People believed that Kendrick looked like that when he was found dead, he did not. They still promote this photograph as how he looked when he was found.
In the first week that KJ was found dead, the family made public statements that the sheriff’s son or grandson was involved in KJs death. The sheriff doesn’t have a son or grandson. Then the family started publicly accusing two boys whose father is an FBI agent. They have rock solid alibis. This information was given to us immediately after the case was closed, and it was given to the Johnson family. They have accused this family on the Georgia NAACP conference call, in public, and now the Johnson family is suing the accused family for being involved in KJs death even though the Johnson family has been shown the mountain of evidence that these boys could not have been involved. As of last week, the Johnson family supporters on the numerous Facebook pages run by the family are accusing ANOTHER family whose son is on the wrestling team, they’ve even posted photographs of the boys’ 92-year-old grandmother and threatened that they are coming to get them. At the latest march and rally the mother stated “We are going to do to them what they did to Kendrick.” Marcus Coleman, their organizer, attempted to provoke a reaction from the Valdosta Police Department who was there for logistical support and safety since their parade permit was for the busiest four lane road in Valdosta. They notified the VPD that they would march to the Board of Education but then demanded to be allowed to march to the high school. They claim that the VPD harassed and intimidated them, both at the march and rally, and then that night at a local nightclub where members of the Johnson family were partying. The VPD had no role in this investigation other than being the administrator of the crime lab which held his body prior to transport to Macon GBI medical examiner’s office. The outrageous behavior and false allegations against innocent white people is beyond belief. There is already one defamation/libel lawsuit for $5 million against Ebony magazine and their writer, Fred Rosen. There are going to be more.
What is the SCLC’s official position on the Kendrick Johnson death?
Tragic accident. However, I do not speak for the Valdosta SCLC, you need to ask Rev. Floyd Rose to give an official statement on behalf of the Valdosta SCLC. He and I are in agreement about Kendrick’s death being a tragic accident.
People have stated that you are biased because you are a White woman investigating the death of a young Black male. How do you respond to this?
I have 15 years of service to the black community with my civil rights activism, I’ve fought for a living wage at Valdosta State University, I won the Georgia NAACP Region V Medgar Evers award for that, I lost my job fighting for a living wage at VSU, I helped defeat a biomass incinerator sited in a Black neighborhood, I helped defeat a school consolidation attempt that would have eliminated four Black school board officials and dozens of black teachers, I currently serve as a committee member for Valdosta’s Black contractors who invited me to help them get fair access to contracts with our school system. My record is there and it’s unquestionable. Those who attack me don’t know me, don’t want to know me, don’t want to educate themselves on the truth, and apparently can’t tell their enemies from their friends. The truth does not have any color.
In closing, what do you want our readers to know about the Kendrick Johnson case?
The preponderance of the evidence does not support what the Johnson family and their attorneys are claiming.
The following page contains graphic images of Kendrick Johnson’s body post mortem.