Brian Bell, a three star recruit from Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia has made his college verbal commitment and it is big news. Bell is a 6-2, 218 pound outside linebacker with offers from Louisville, Georgia Tech, Clemson and Cincinnati. If that is all you ever heard of this, it would just be another normal recruiting story.
This, however, is no average story. That’s because Brian Bell is a co-defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit that garnered national headlines two years ago. Oh, and the fact that Bell committed to Florida State Wednesday night.
Bell is a defendant, along with the Lowndes County School Board of Education, the superintendent of schools and the principal of Lowndes High School, in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of Kendrick Johnson. In January of 2013, Johnson’s body was found in a rolled up wrestling mat in the gym at Lowndes High. The initial county autopsy determined that the death was accidental, and that Johnson died of asphyxiation, although there were questions as to how Johnson got into the rolled up mat to begin with.
An independent pathologist hired by Johnson’s family, however, concluded that Johnson had died from blunt force trauma to the head prior to being placed in the rolled up mat. At that point the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Middle District of Georgia agreed to open an investigation, which is still ongoing.
The story made national headlines when, in November of 2013, it was reported by CNN, (and here), New York Daily News, and others that nearly three hundred hours of surveillance tapes from cameras that covered the school gym area were released, but more than two hours of recording from the day Johnson died were missing, making any definitive conclusions difficult.
Editor’s Note: A further investigation by Leigh Touchton of the SCLC’s Valdosta chapter disputes the claims that the videos are missing. Ms. Touchton contacted LWOS.
The unanswered questions in this case are of course still to be determined in court.
The family of Kendrick Johnson filed the wrongful death lawsuit earlier this month. The suit alleges that their son was frequently assaulted by two students, brothers, at the school. Johnson was allegedly attacked on a school bus by one of them, “…who had a history of provoking and attacking” Johnson at school, according to the court papers. The suit also says that school officials were made aware of the allegations but failed to protect to Johnson.
The Johnson family suit cloaks the name of the accused students. Their names became public, however, when their parents filed a $5 million defamation lawsuit against Ebony Magazine in late 2014 after the magazine ran a series of articles about the circumstances surrounding the Johnson death. Ebony used pseudonyms for the students, but reported that the Johnson family believed there was a cover up in their son’s death because the brothers in question have an FBI agent for a father. The article said the Johnson family believed that their son’s death was revenge for his having had sex with the daughter of the FBI agent. Rick and Karen Bell filed the defamation suit, claiming that their boys are now being harassed as a result of the article.
That brings us back to the here and now. While the judicial process on both sides plods along at a deliberate pace, Brian Bell has finished his senior football season and is looking for a place to play college football. His choice of Florida State is more than somewhat ironic. Over the last 18 months the school has made headlines as much for police blotter activity as it has for its football. The school has dealt with players being investigated for things as minor as petty theft to as staggering as sexual assault, battery, drug dealing and parole violations.
Social media, no bastion of patience, has already spoken. Some Twitter users Wednesday night posted pictures of the late Kendrick Johnson, including photos from the scene of his death. Several have called for Florida State to rescind the scholarship offer to Bell, even though the criminal investigation, and the wrongful death lawsuit are still pending.
When you are Florida State football, there is never a quiet period.
Have you tuned into Last Word On Sports Radio? LWOS is pleased to bring you 24/7 sports radio to your PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone. What are you waiting for?