Judge won’t pause civil suit in Georgia gym death for feds

judgeBy The Associated Press

VALDOSTA, Ga. (AP) — A judge rejected the Justice Department’s request to temporarily halt evidence-gathering in a civil lawsuit by the parents of a Georgia teenager found dead at school in a rolled up gym mat.

Classmates found the body of 16-year-old Kendrick Johnson of Valdosta inside an upright mat propped against the gym wall at Lowndes High School in January 2013. Sheriff’s investigators concluded the teenager died in a freak accident. His parents have filed a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit accusing two brothers of killing their son and authorities of covering up the crime.

Medical-malpractice1Federal prosecutors launched an investigation two years ago, but announced no findings. Justice Department attorney James Bennett told a Superior Court judge Wednesday there is still “an active grand jury investigation” into Johnson’s death. He asked for a delay of six months in the civil proceedings to prevent attorneys from questioning witnesses who are part of the federal investigation, WSB-TV reported (http://bit.ly/1PpzWIG).

“The release of evidence from the criminal investigation at this juncture will seriously jeopardize the federal investigation,” Bennett said.

Judge J. Richard Porter, who is presiding over the civil case, refused to put the lawsuit on hold. He said it would be improper, considering that no criminal charges have been filed, The Valdosta Daily Times reported (http://bit.ly/1OqLoFp).

“This investigation has been going on for two years, and there is no indictment,” the judge said.

Attorneys in the civil lawsuits have already questioned Johnson’s parents and other witnesses under oath, despite the Justice Department’s pending request to halt those interviews.

Tim Tanner, an attorney for Valdosta city officials accused in the civil suit, in court Wednesday presented an excerpt from the deposition of Kenneth Johnson, the dead teenager’s father.

During the interview, when pressed to say what evidence he had that the accused brothers killed his son, Kenneth Johnson said: “The evidence that I have at this time, I do not have any at this time.”

The Associated Press is not naming the brothers accused by Johnson’s parents because they have not been charged with any crimes.