ATLANTA — In court documents filed Monday, an FBI agent and his two sons fired back at federal authorities who want to temporarily halt a lawsuit over the death of a Valdosta teen found dead in an upright, rolled-up gym mat in 2013.
Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Mark Winne took the filed motions to former prosecutor Bill Thomas, who reviewed them and said the three recent motions by the U.S. Justice Department ask a judge to put the major fact-gathering portion of a lawsuit in the Kendrick Johnson case on hold for 180 days.
"They're claiming that if the lawsuit goes forward, that it would interfere in their criminal investigation," Thomas said.
Now, three of the major parties on the other side have weighed in: Branden Bell, Brian Bell and their father, Rick Bell, who is an FBI agent.
Winne spoke to the Bell brothers in an exclusive interview over the summer about their alleged involvement in Johnson's death.
"Did you have anything to do with the death of Kendrick Johnson?" Winne asked Brian Bell.
"No. He was like one of my good friends," Brian Bell answered.
"The truth will prevail, and in the end they will find that me and my brother have been innocent and always will be innocent," Brandon Bell told Winne.
Johnson's parents have alleged a group including the Bell brothers violently assaulted their son, leading to his death.
Johnson's mother says the Bell brothers were never friends with her son.
The Lowndes County sheriff told Winne that his office agreed with the state medical examiner that Johnson's death was an accident due to positional asphyxia and he wedged himself in a rolled-up gym mat trying to reach a shoe and could not get out.
In their new motion, the Bells say, "The government has no right to intervene."
"The alleged basis for the Government's proposed intervention and stay is that the Bells might gain an 'unfair advantage' in the Government's 'criminal investigation,'" the motion says. "The Government's argument is flawed..."
The Bells' motion said, "A stay of this litigation would allow the injustices against the Bells to continue."
A document indicates the Johnson family does not oppose the stay.
One of the federal motions suggests the stay will not prejudice the plaintiffs and would not adversely affect any interest of the defendants, citing the public interest.