Sheriff’s role in Kendrick Johnson death called into question, coroner even seeking answers
The death of Kendrick Johnson in January has still not been resolved to the satisfaction of the family or the local coroner. April 11 also marks the thirteenth week in which the GBI has yet to release the final autopsy report.
This week the family has organized protests and walks to raise awareness to the situation, calling for justice.
“We haven’t gotten any information. So if they’re still investigating why haven’t they brought fourth the evidence?” said the teen’s father Kenneth Johnson.
On January 11, Johnson’s death was ruled an accident by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department and media outlets reported it that way, but since the beginning of this case, the Lowndes County’s Sheriff’s Office has had a larger role in this case than the county coroner – from dispatching theories about how Johnson died to the Lowndes Sheriff’s Office submitting samples.
The Valdosta Times reports that Sheriff Chris Prine who had previously worked for three decades from 1973 through 2002 as a Georgia State Patrol officer before becoming Lowndes Sheriff in 2009, said the following:
“We just sent the GBI a second blood sample to look at it again and make sure everything is like they say it is,” said Prine. “We’re just cooperating with them and getting them anything they need. Of course, we always work deaths similar to this one as a homicide investigation until it’s been proven accidental — and that’s how we’ve treated this investigation.”
Protocol and transparency has been lacking and apparently, the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department is now taking the role as the coroner, even though Georgia law says differently.
Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson has been in contact with the GBI regarding Kendrick’s autopsy, he said. But the Coroner hasn’t enjoyed the same level of cooperation from the sheriff’s office as the GBI, said Watson, who also stated he wasn’t contacted when Kendrick’s body was first discovered.
The Office of the Sheriff and the Office of the Coroner are two separate positions, so critics are asking why is the Lowndes Sheriff’s Department handling evidence to be given to the GBI?
Watson provides further insight about his relationship with the Lowndes County Sheriffs’ Office to the Valdosta Times’ April 11 story.
“You may not want me on your crime scene, but it’s a law. It’s not something you can change your mind about.”
And here is one of those laws:
Reports from the Times is that the photos of the boy show lacerations and bruising, but it was the Sheriff, not the coroner who proclaimed the death an accident.
Kendrick’s family has reportedly hired an attorney, backed by a pair of retired homicide detectives conducting their own investigation.