On Wednesday, February 5, lawyers representing the parents of Lowndes County High School student Kendrick Johnson had filed a lawsuit against Valdosta's Harrington Funeral Home.
The lawsuit alleges negligence and fraud by Antonio Harrington and his funeral home.
However, the state of Georgia had recently determined via an investigation by the Georgia Secretary of State that there wasn't a violation of the law by the Harrington Funeral Home.
"Legislation or regulation does not address the practice or prohibit funeral professionals from filling a cavity with newspaper," the Georgia Board of Funeral Service said in a letter addressed to Johnson's mother. "Therefore, the practice ... is not a violation of the law."
The limited and narrowly-focused state investigation doesn't mention whether the funeral home had conspired with a third-party who could be considered a suspect in an effort to obstruct an investigation.
Obstruction is a crime. Lying to investigators is a crime. Destroying and falsifying evidence is a crime. Intimidating witnesses is a crime.
The state investigation comes up short with its narrow focus in regard to the legality of newspaper being stuffed inside Kendrick's body.
Additionally, the state investigation doesn't totally absolve Harrington, and these findings don't adequately address the complete role that the state of Georgia played in this case--beginning with the actions of the Thomasville GBI office along with the original autopsy report generated by the GBI's medical examiner which was released in May.
However, this is where U.S. Attorney Michael Moore has to ask more probing questions of Antonio Harrington and the staff of the funeral home along with the state of Georgia, especially in regard to Kendrick Johnson's clothes and organs which were missing.
On January 11, 2013 and the days after, local law enforcement along with the GBI from its Thomasville office and also agents from the local FBI office in Valdosta were focused on the Kendrick Johnson case for various reasons.
They were at the Old Gymnasium hours before the county coroner arrived and at least one hour before the paramedic Nick Tomlinson came onto the scene at 10:42 am on January 11, 2013.
Should the U.S. Attorney Michael Moore be aware of conversations (phone, text, face-to-face) or correspondences by the state or federal officials with the Harrington Funeral Home?
Prior to Kendrick Johnson being delivered to the Harrington Funeral Home, where was the 17 year old's body?
Johnson's body spent a three-day weekend (January 11-14, 2013) or approximately sixty hours at the Valdosta-Lowndes Regional Crime Laboratory.
The Valdosta-Lowndes Regional Crime Laboratory is controlled by the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office along with the Valdosta Police Department.
The public is aware that Lowndes Sheriff's Office -- led by Chris Prine-- had admitted to not calling the county coroner, Bill Watson. until several hours later after school had ended.
A state law was broken.
The Lowndes county sheriff's Office called Kendrick Johnson's an 'accident' on the night (January 11) that the 17 year-old was found, but by state law they needed to release the body to the next of kin. This did not happen.
January 12, 2013--the day after-- came and gone without the parents seeing the body or claiming Kendrick. Another state law broken.
Protocol and transparency was thrown out the window on January 11, 2013 and the subsequent weeks and months to follow
Was the condition of Kendrick Johnson's body a priority of the Valdoata-Lowndes Regional Laboratory during those sixty hours after he was taken away?
Johnson's body spent close to 10 hours on the gym floor as temperatures rose to the low 80's of Lowndes Co. High School's Old Gymnasium after he was found on January 11, 2013?
Should the U.S. Attorney get a warrant and shut the Regional Laboratory down to retrieve evidence pertinent to this case?
The state of Georgia had raided Harrington Funeral Home, why not the Valdosta-Lowndes Regional Laboratory?
Did they mishandle Kendrick's body and what sort of correspondence or access did they have with local authorities during the three-day weekend (January 11-14, 2013?
In the Harrington lawsuit, filed on Friday, January 31 and amended on Wednesday, February 5, the family alleges that not only did the funeral home mishandle the organs, it disposed of them to thwart an investigation into Johnson's cause of death.
According to CNN:
The lawsuit also alleges that Harrington recommended to the Johnsons that their son have a “closed casket” funeral ceremony due to “the level of decomposition” of their son’s face, but they refused.
Following their son’s funeral, communication between the Johnsons and Harrington ceased until the summer of 2013 when a judge agreed to exhume Kendrick’s body for a second autopsy, at the request of his parents.
When Harrington was contacted by the Johnsons in regard to the exhumation of their son’s body, “at no time throughout the entire process of either preparing necessary documents or physically removing [Kendrick’s] remains from the ground did Harrington advise [Mr. and Mrs. Johnson] of the true condition of [their] child’s remains,” the court documents say.