Nineteen-year-old Kendrick Johnson never came home from Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia on January 10, 2013. His parents notified the local sheriff, and an investigation at the school the following morning led to the tragic discovery of Johnson’s body face down in the middle of a rolled-up wrestling mat inside one of the school’s two gyms. Investigators believed that Johnson had been reaching inside the mat to retrieve one of his tennis shoes and accidentally fell inside and became trapped.
Lead investigator Lt. Stryde Jones said, “We never had credible evidence that indicated this was anything more than an accident.” The coroner performed an autopsy on the body and officially announced that the cause of death was accidental and due to positional asphyxia. A sad, abrupt end to the story, right?
Unfortunately, it was only the beginning. This happened at a high school in rural Georgia, out in farm country. Naturally, being a bunch of goofy high school kids, conspiracy theories began to run rampant. The most popular theory dreamed up by those high school kids involved the two white sons of an FBI agent named Rick Bell.
Brian, the youngest son, and Johnson had briefly scuffled on the team bus after a football game. The rumor began to spread around the school that the tussle between Bell and Johnson (who was black) had been over Brian’s girlfriend and had nothing to do with football. That changed the narrative from “accidental death” to “two white boys murder a young black man because of a white girl, and the federal government concealed evidence of the murder because their father was an FBI agent.”
Local civil rights activists took the accusations very seriously and demanded action. Reverend Floyd Rose, the Lowndes County chapter president of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, and local NAACP leader Leigh Touchton both demanded a serious and thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding Johnson’s death, and they got one.
FBI investigators pulled surveillance video from 35 different cameras at the school and carefully analyzed the data. Dozens of witnesses were interviewed. Due to eyewitness accounts and video timestamps, by October of 2013 investigators had been able to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Brian Bell was nowhere near when Johnson went inside the gym. He simply could not have murdered Kendrick Johnson even if he’d wanted. Branden Bell wasn’t even in Valdosta; he was on a bus headed to a wrestling meet in Macon when Johnson sadly met his fate. At last, that was the end of it, right?
Wrong. The Johnsons had lost a son. Somebody had to have murdered him; the coroner, the investigators, and everyone else must be lying as part of a vast (probably right-wing) conspiracy to cover up the crime. To anyone with a smidgen of logic, reason, sense of fairness, and sanity, the issue had been settled: Kendrick Johnson’s death was an accident. The Bell brothers could not possibly have killed him and concealed his death, with or without the help of their father.
Sadly, that was not good enough for Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson. They had not accepted the official cause of death and paid for a second autopsy, which asserted the cause of death was blunt force trauma. The new, competing narrative to the official cause of death was that Kendrick had actually been beaten to death.
The problem was that their two best (and really, the only) “suspects” had been eliminated by video evidence and eyewitness accounts. That and the absolute lack of physical evidence that Kendrick had been physically assaulted. The new theory was that Kendrick had been murdered by a single, expert blow to the head, as if a couple of high school kids were actually Ninja assassins with the ability to teleport to and away from the crime scene.
So, with only the results of this second, conflicting autopsy to support their claims, the Johnsons accused everyone involved of participating in a massive conspiracy. At least forty or fifty people would have to be involved, from the local sheriff to the FBI, even the coroner, and they weren’t all white people, either. How bad was the evidence against Branden and Brian Bell? It was so bad that even the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice under Eric Holder and Barack Obama refused to directly interfere. Reverend Rose and Ms. Touchton both withdrew their support after realizing that the Johnsons and their lawyers were not being truthful about information they had received from investigators. The Johnsons refused to watch the surveillance videos.
Touchton told the Valdosta Daily Times, “We have to have justice for everybody. That means when you think your entire law enforcement, sheriff’s department, district attorney, all the school officials at Lowndes High, all the school board members, all the teachers and coaches, when you think they are all conspiring to cover up the murder of a black child, that’s unjust to all those people because they give their lives to help children.”
Let’s be honest: when you’re black but the local SCLC and NAACP aren’t on your side, your case must be pretty weak. When Barack Obama and Eric Holder wouldn’t offer their public support, reasonable people might conclude that legal action would be an exercise in futility.
But who needs reasonable people when we have Al Sharpton?
The Johnsons already had attorney Chevene King, Jr. as their legal counsel and soon added the notorious Benjamin Crump, famous for successfully suing The Retreat at Twin Lakes subdivision in the Trayvon Martin case and the city of Ferguson, Missouri in the Michael Brown case. They had the firepower to go after a big settlement from somebody.
Then U.S. Attorney Michael Moore got involved.
William “Boss” Tweed was one of the most notoriously corrupt politicians in American history, believed to have stolen anywhere between $25-$200 million dollars from New York City taxpayers. Shortly after the Civil War ended, his gang of cronies operating out of Tammany Hall controlled the Big Apple with an iron fist, until Thomas Nast’s political cartoons exposing the rampant corruption eventually led to Tweed’s arrest and conviction.
However, Boss Tweed was a piker and a rank amateur when compared to former President Barack Obama., who used the full weight and power of the federal government for his own personal political gain. However, Boss Tweed only controlled the largest city on the East Coast. Obama controlled the entire country for eight years, and the stench of corruption still lingers from his administration, four years later. President Barack Obama’s Department of Injustice appointed attorneys like Michael Moore for the middle district of Georgia.
Ironically, Moore’s specialty in private practice is false claims litigation. As mentioned in Part 1 (LINK) he’s about the only person other than Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson who believed that Brian and/or Branden Bell had murdered Kendrick Johnson. His opening of an investigation into the allegations against Rick Bell and his sons allowed the Johnsons to file a civil lawsuit against the Bell family for $100 million dollars. Brian Bell, one of the teens falsely accused in public of murder but never actually charged with any crime, lost his scholarship offered by the nearby Florida State Seminoles and was lucky to even get the opportunity to play for the Akron Zips.
Here’s where the story not only gets weird, but stupid. Rick Bell, father of the two boys accused of Johnson’s murder, was accused of helping them conceal the crime. Rick was an active FBI agent and about the last person anyone would ever expect of a racially motivated hate crime -- his investigation of the burning of a black church in Arkansas led to the arrest and conviction of three white men for the crime. Although multiple eyewitnesses and recorded video evidence had thoroughly exonerated both boys and absolutely proved beyond any reasonable doubt that neither could have possibly murdered Kendrick Johnson, Moore apparently directed his investigators to operate as if Rick Bell was a criminal mastermind behind the mother of all conspiracy theories, not an honest FBI field agent with a known and respected track record. When FBI Agents Carlton Peeples and Greg McClendon (both of whom are black), along with Special Agent in Charge Britt Johnson, met with U.S. Attorney Moore to discuss the Kendrick Johnson evidence and explicitly stated that no evidence supported any murder theory, Moore’s ludicrous reply was, “Maybe KJ was murdered at night.”
The FBI announced they were closing the case, which outraged Moore, who suggested that Attorney General Eric Holder should be making the final decision. However, SAC Johnson curtly replied, “I work for FBI Director Comey and we are closing this case. Period. We will not take part in this witch hunt any longer.”
Such strong opposition from the FBI would probably deter most normal prosecutors, but Michael Moore may as well have been operating from the same handbook as Mike Nifong. At one point, the Bell family woke up to discover a 25-member SWAT team banging on their front door and an armored personnel carrier parked on their street. It was only one of six early morning raids by U.S Marshals working for Michael Moore, allegedly looking for evidence of Johnson’s murder.
Don’t those Gestapo tactics sound familiar? When pre-dawn raids by overwhelming numbers of heavily armed police officers swarmed the personal residences of guys like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, the general public sort of assumed those two gentlemen had to be guilty of something -- something above and beyond their association with President Trump.
Former federal prosecutor Tom Withers commented, “This is an egregious miscarriage of justice. It’s shocking that this case would go forward after the FBI concluded these kids were not involved. It’s just unbelievable.” He added that Moore could be sanctioned if it could be proved he continued the investigation without any probable cause, but the hurdles for a conviction are high and the maximum punishment is only a public reprimand -- big deal.
With the exception of the privately commissioned second autopsy, all of the evidence pointed to an accidental death, or at minimum exonerated the Bell brothers. Yet Moore sent Rick, Branden, and Brian Bell “target letters” suggesting that substantial evidence linked them to the murder of Kendrick Johnson, and the likely outcome would be they would eventually become defendants in a criminal trial in federal court. This move also opened the door for the Johnsons to file a frivolous $100 million civil suit against the Bell family.
The full weight and power of the federal government was being brought to bear against a dedicated, completely innocent public servant and his family. Facts didn’t matter. Ron Hosko, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, wrote in a scathing letter to the Valdosta Daily Times, “Moore’s investigation began with nothing more than rumor and the politics of race. He should know he has violated his oath of office and should hang his head in disgrace as he leaves.”
In a second letter Hosko sent to the Daily Times after Moore’s resignation in 2015 he added, “A curious reader might ask, if the government had substantial evidence of a crime in 2014 and probable cause to search for evidence at locations occupied by the grand jury targets in 2015, how could they now close their case with a lack of evidence? What changed? Can substantial evidence and probable cause simply vaporize?”
As previously mentioned in Part 1, the Johnson family was represented by attorney Benjamin Crump -- surely that name rings a bell (pun intended).
Please remember that Crump is the same lawyer who allegedly suborned perjury out of Rachel Jeantel in the George Zimmerman murder trial. The tragic, sordid persecution of the Bell family would have been bad enough if it was an aberration, an exception to the rule. Unfortunately, it seems to fit a pattern of behavior by the Barack Obama Department of Injustice.
Basically, the same tactics were used to target and destroy General Michael Flynn in the earliest days of the Trump administration. Not only did the DoJ target dedicated public servants and their children, these DOJ thugs knew they would be causing irreparable harm and unnecessary pain to innocent victims, using the full weight and power of the federal government as they tried to bully false confessions to nonexistent crimes.
Please, never forget that the federal government literally has the authority to print money. Once Uncle Sam has an indictment, the odds against the typical defendant in federal drop so low that it usually isn’t worth fighting. Even if you win in court your opponent has bottomless pockets and the ability to file appeals, and even if they don’t get a conviction, they can ruin you financially and threaten to go after both you and your children.
In the case of General Flynn, a “302” FBI investigation document was deliberately altered to produce false evidence, and exculpatory evidence was withheld from the defense. In other words, the FBI agents who initially interviewed General Flynn knew that he had not intentionally deceived them in any way, but the FBI is part of the Department of Injustice, and they wanted Flynn’s scalp. FBI Director James Comey deliberately sent over agents to interview Flynn while the Trump administration was still being established to “get” Flynn to incriminate himself during an informal interview. When the scheme didn’t work, they fabricated evidence and coerced an American patriot to plead guilty in order to save his family.
Is this a great country, or what?
Pop quiz: what do Michael Moore (Kendrick Johnson), Mike Nifong (Duke lacrosse team), Jonathan Kravis (Roger Stone), Brandon Van Grack (Michael Flynn), and Andrew Weissmann (President Trump, Paul Manafort, the accounting firm Arthur Anderson) have in common? If you guessed they are all Democrats, you’re more than likely correct, but the answer I was looking for was “prosecutorial abuse.” Here’s the problem: Former U.S. Attorney Michael Moore is still doing okay in the private sector. Former FBI Director James Comey has written a book and contemplated trees. Andrew McCabe got fired before he could retire from the FBI, but still has a sweet gig on MSNBC.
*Those men should all be toiling at hard labor or just rotting in prison. James Wolfe gets caught leaking classified information to the media and lying to the FBI about it. He was guilty as hell but only got a slap on the wrist for far more serious crimes than Roger Stone or Paul Manafort.
The United States was founded on the principle of equal justice under the law, but the most powerful people in government abused their authority to weaponize the legal system against their political enemies. Quite frankly, an apology to the Bell family isn’t going to be good enough. Allowing Michael Flynn to withdraw his guilty plea and dismissing the case against him won’t rebalance the scales of justice, either. People need to pay and pay dearly for abusing the power of their office. Apparently, our only hope for real justice rests in the work of yet another U.S. Attorney, John Durham.
One way or another, the people responsible for this travesty of justice must be held accountable, and the consequences of their egregious abuse of power must be so severe that another 150 years or more pass before another Democrat follows in the footsteps of Boss Tweed and Barack Obama.