USA Today: Bell Probe turns to possible Witness Tampering, Obstruction Charges

| August 3, 2015

Brian Bell

USA Today

Two and a half years ago, Brian Bell, a former football star at Lowndes High School, first was investigated in the death of a classmate. Last month, federal authorities raided several college dorm rooms and homes, including those of Bell and his parents, as the probe took a turn into witness tampering and obstruction.

In January 2013, Kendrick Johnson was found dead in a rolled-up wrestling mat at Lowndes High. The incident sparked racial strife in the community and gained national attention when Florida State withdrew a football scholarship offer to Bell, who is white.

Federal prosecutor Michael Moore convened a grand jury last year after brushing aside the findings of local and state law enforcement agencies that ruled Johnson’s death was an accident, and federal authorities opened a murder investigation. U.S. Marshals Service agents carried out search warrants at several locations July 21.

The agents arrived simultaneously at the home of Rick and Karen Bell, the college dormitory room of their son, Brian, the Valdosta State dorm room of their other son, Brandon, the home of former Lowndes High student Ryan Hall, the college dorm room of another former Lowndes student and current Valdosta State student, Taylor Eakin, and the Valdosta home of Eakin’s parents between 4 and 5 a.m. ET. They seized cellphones and computers, according to the warrants obtained by USA TODAY Sports.

Hall told The Valdosta Daily Times that, after he was handcuffed and agreed to talk to the agents without a lawyer, he was driven two hours to Macon and interrogated for four hours.

The search warrants for the Bells’ residence in Ponte Vedra, Fla.; the Eakins’ residence in Valdosta and Taylor Eakin’s dorm room specified the agents were looking for the transmission of any information about witnesses and the grand jury investigation into the death of Johnson.

“The kind of thing (Moore) is looking for is some statement where there was a suggestion to a witness not to testify or that a witness did not have to testify or something along those lines,” said Brice Ladson, attorney for the Bells and Eakins. “They are not looking for evidence of a murder. According to the warrants, the search was designed to obtain evidence of witness tampering, not murder.

“Wouldn’t it be something that we are two years into this (investigation) and all that we get out of this are some allegations of witness tampering or witnesses may have had conversations with the Bells related to grand jury testimony. Is that it?”

A spokesperson for Moore, U.S. attorney in the Middle District of Georgia, said he had no comment.

Moore announced Oct. 31, 2013, that he was leading an investigation into the Johnson’s death. Local and state police investigators said Johnson’s death was accidental, concluding he crawled inside the standing gym mat to retrieve a shoe and became stuck and asphyxiated.

Johnson’s parents said their son was murdered by Brian Bell, Brandon Bell and Hall at the behest of Rick Bell, who is an FBI agent. The Johnsons hired their own pathologist who said Kendrick Johnson died of blunt force trauma. The Johnsons filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Bells. The Bells countersued and also filed libel and defamation suits against Ebony magazine and a freelance journalist for portraying their sons as murderers.

Ladson said he was seeking a protective order related to the Bells’ and Eakins’ seized phones and computers because they contain privileged attorney-client communications related to the criminal case and civil suits. Ladson said he was worried those communications would be made public in court.

After FSU withdrew its offer to Brian Bell, the linebacker struggled to find another school where he could play football. However, he is enrolled at a school and hopes to play this fall. The family would not disclose which school.

Hall, 19, told The Valdosta Daily Times he was at his residence when agents knocked on his door, pushed their way inside and handcuffed him. The agents took items from the house but did not give him a list of what they took, Hall told the Times.

Hall said the agents told him, “We have more on you than we have on Brian. We have enough on you now to put you away.”

“If they had all that,” Hall said, “then I’m pretty sure I would be in handcuffs and in jail.”

Hall since has retained an attorney, Byron Watson, who did not return a phone call asking for a comment.

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Filed in: Local News, News

8 Comments on "USA Today: Bell Probe turns to possible Witness Tampering, Obstruction Charges"

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  1. tiwanda smith says:

    Oh well get over it nobody cares if they were arrested they should’ve been.

    • Gibson Mathers says:

      Arrested for what exactly? You seem to post on all the articles about this case but you don’t bring any facts, just the illogical talking points of the conspiracy theorists…the same points that have ALL been proven false.

      At this point Moore is just slinging crap against the wall to see what sticks because he is being pressured from above to “lynch” someone.

  2. Langston Whitt says:

    Silly comment above. Federally funded fishing expedition with bad cop techniques borrowed from bad NBC television .

  3. I see the bigots are out in force, This kid got murdered, they wouldn’t be serving warrants if they thought it was an accident, it’s really , really
    pathetic that so many in the south are illiterate, Didn’t you read this
    article, Please get educated. Drunk in stupidity ,Fat, Dumb is no way to
    through life, Have a nice ignorant day, Jimmy B.

    • Gibson Mathers says:

      Well you seem to do alright getting through life being fat, dumb, drunk and a stupid bigot. You didn’t read the article either it seems because they didn’t serve arrest warrants but search warrants for guess what? Not murder but witness tampering. Moore is just trying to find something to lynch someone with because of political pressure he is getting in the “White” House.

      You need a bigger battery for your trolling motor.

  4. Georgia/Florida says:

    Obama, Holder/Lynch, Sharpton, Crump and parents still mining for $$$ and political capital from poor kid’s death.

  5. Kendrick J says:

    No mention of all the school videos that were deleted or the missing organs after unprecedented on-site autopsy.

    • Gibson Mathers says:

      Do your own research and you will find the answers to your questions. Then again a “conspiracy” is way more fun than the truth.