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Crime News Black Lives Matter

Georgia Sheriff Offers $500K Of Personal Money For Info In Kendrick Johnson Case

Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk, who last week issued a new investigative report on the teenager's 2013 death, offered his own money to anyone with information that can lead to a conviction.

By Megan Carpentier
Kendrick Johnson Handout

A Georgia sheriff has offered up his own personal money for any information that leads to a murder conviction in the case of a teenage boy found dead in a rolled-up gym mat in 2013.

Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk has offered $500,000 to anyone with "information that results in the arrest and conviction of a person for the alleged murder of Kendrick Johnson at Lowndes County High School," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

He was spurred, he told the paper, by accusations by Johnson's family that he is a liar.

"After the release of my synopsis of the federal files on the Kendrick Johnson case, his parents have called me a liar and continue to state that Kendrick was murdered,” he said. “Because of these statements, I am personally — with my own funds — offering a reward of one-half million dollars."

After Paulk issued his report, Johnson's mother wrote to supporters on Facebook that they didn't accept its conclusions.

"Y’all please know we’re not worried," the Journal-Constitution reported that Jackie Johnson wrote. "We already knew Paulk was gone lie."

The family then held a live-streamed rally in Valdosta in opposition to the report and the department over the weekend, the paper reported. 

"They can always try and do what they want, but I'm [gonna] stay in their face," she told people watching the live stream.

Last week, Paulk issued a new report based on files from a federal investigation into the teen's mysterious 2013 death which, for the third time, found no evidence he was murdered. Paulk was not the sheriff at the time of the death, and reopened the investigation in March 2021.

It was, he told the newspaper, a necessary step to receiving the files from the federal investigation that concluded in 2016 without finding any evidence that Johnson was murdered. The initial local investigation also concluded that the teen's death was an accident: the 2013 autopsy found that Johnson died of positional asphyxia after being trapped upside-down inside the mat, likely while trying to retrieve shoes he had stored in it.

Johnson's parents have never accepted the conclusions of local investigators or the federal investigation, and have repeatedly accused three of their son's classmates of killing him and the local police of covering it up at the behest of an FBI agent who is the father of two of the boys. (Paulk's report noted, as did the previous investigations, that security footage and other evidence shows that the boys the family has accused were elsewhere at the time Johnson entered the gym until his body was discovered.)

The Johnson family has filed multiple wrongful death lawsuits in both state and federal court against law enforcement officials and the family of two of the boys, all of which have either been withdrawn or dismissed — including one state suit in which the judge accused them and their lawyer of submitting false evidence, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

After Paulk reopened the investigation last year, the family provided him with a recording purportedly of a confession made by the second cousin of one of the boys they've repeatedly accused, the Journal-Constitution reported. Paulk found that there was no such second cousin, and the formerly incarcerated man who provided the family with the recording in exchange for money told police he had faked it.

The family's lawyer, Marcus Coleman, told the paper at the time that Johnson's mother still believed the tape was authentic.

Johnson's three classmates, whose alibis have been repeatedly verified by police and federal investigators, have always proclaimed their innocence. The parents of two of the boys sued Ebony magazine in federal court for defamation in 2014 after it published a series of controversial articles lightly anonymizing the boys but espousing the Johnson family's theories. Ebony settled the case for $500,000 in 2020, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The family did not respond to Paulk's offer when the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reached out for comment.