When the family of Kendrick Johnson got a chance to review surveillance video taken from when he died at his Valdosta, Georgia high school in January, what they saw only added to their suspicions that the official finding of an accident is bogus. For those who don't know, investigators' official finding is that Kendrick fell inside a gym mat and suffocated. However, his family paid for an independent autopsy which suggested he'd actually been beaten to death. The pathologist who conducted this second probe also found that some of Kendrick's organs had been removed.
When Kendrick's family watched video released by a court order earlier this month, they claimed its quality was suspiciously low; it was very erratic and blurry. To get some answers, CNN's Victor Blackwell paid a call on forensic video analyst Grant Fredericks, who is a longtime instructor at the FBI National Academy. While Fredericks found no evidence that the video had been "corrupted," in the words of Johnson family attorney Benjamin Crump, he did find something just as suspicious--some of the video is missing.
Fredericks quickly knocked down the Johnsons' concerns -- they're all easily explained, he said -- but his examination raised what could be another mystery: at least an hour of missing video from all four cameras inside the gym.Specifically, two cameras in the gym went silent for an hour and five minutes, not resuming until 1:09 pm when Kendrick entered the gym. Two other cameras didn't record for over two hours, and only resumed at 1:15. However, a camera outside the gym shows several students entering and exiting the gym while the cameras inside the gym weren't recording. To Fredericks' mind, either the information wasn't recorded, someone didn't capture it, or the video wasn't provided to police. Either way, Fredericks says, it raises a lot of questions.
"Those files are not original files," Fredericks said. "They're not something investigators should rely on for the truth of the video."
Addressing the Johnsons' suspicions, Fredericks said the erratic motion in the video can be attributed to motion sensors triggering the cameras' recording function, and the blurriness on the camera homing in on the gym mats is the product of an out-of-focus lens. As for the time stamp, it's there; investigators just need to know where to look, he said.
Fredericks was able to find a little more than 18 minutes of video showing Johnson throughout the school on January 10. He's first seen at 7:31 a.m. entering school and last seen at 1:09 p.m., walking into the gym where he was found dead the next day.
What Fredericks wasn't able to find was video showing whether there was anyone in the gym when Johnson was there -- images that could prove vital in determining how the teen died.
"(The surveillance video has) been altered in a number of ways, primarily in image quality and likely in dropped information, information loss," he said. "There are also a number of files that are corrupted because they've not been processed correctly and they're not playable. I can't say why they were done that way, but they were not done correctly, and they were not done thoroughly. So we're missing information."
Fredericks told CNN he found it "highly suspicious" that an hour of video could be missing, especially considering how the material was acquired by police.This story aired last night on Anderson Cooper 360, and is worth watching in full. Watch part 1 here and part 2 here.
"The investigator's responsibility is to acquire the entire digital video recording system and have their staff define what they want to obtain," he said.
According to an incident report from the Sheriff's Office, however, a detective watched a portion of the video then asked an information technology officer employed by the school board to produce a "copy of the surveillance video for the entire wing of the school with the old gym for the last 48 hours."
Five days later, the sheriff's report says, the IT officer delivered a hard drive to the detective, who verified it contained what he requested.
"Right now, what they've done, is they've left it up to the school district as to what it is they want to provide to the police, and I think that probably is a mistake," Fredericks said.
"You don't want somebody who might be party to the responsibility to make the decision as to what they provide the police."
Cooper discussed this with CNN legal analysts Sonny Hostin and Jeffrey Toobin, both former federal prosecutors. They both think that at minimum, the investigators screwed this up eight ways to Sunday. Watch here.
Hostin says it bluntly--the combination of the missing video, the initial mishandling of evidence at the scene, the missing organs and the existence of two coroner's reports is "curious at best." I'd go further--it practically screams "cover-up."