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County coroner slams initial handling of Georgia teen's death

ATLANTA, Nov. 8 (UPI) -- The coroner in the case of a Georgia teen found dead in a rolled-up gym mat ripped the handling of the initial investigation.

CNN said it obtained the report from Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson in which he said the body had been noticeably moved, the scene compromised and he received "no cooperation" from law enforcement officials on the scene.

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Authorities say Kendrick Johnson fell into the mat and suffocated while trying to retrieve a sneaker but the teen's family suspects someone killed their son and tried to cover it up.

"I was not notifedi n [sic] this death until 15:45 hours. The investigative climate was very poor to worse when I arrived on the scene. The body had been noticably [sic] moved. The scene had been compromised and there was no cooperation from law enforcement at the scene. Furthermore the integrity of the evidence bag was compromised on January 13, 2013 by opening the sealed bag and exhibiting the dead body to his father," Watson wrote in his Jan. 22 report.

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"I do not approve of the manner this case was handled. Not only was the scene compromised, the body was moved. The integrrety (sic) was breached by opening a sealed body bag, information necessary for my lawful investigation was withheld," he said.

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The 17-year-old's bloody body was found rolled up in a mat at Lowndes High School Jan. 11. A state medical examiner ruled his death as accidental, despite evidence of a neck injury in an autopsy conducted by a pathologist hired by Johnson's family, CNN said. His fingernails had been clipped, his clothes were missing and his organs had been removed and replaced by newspaper.

A second unsigned and undated coroner's death investigation report was provided by the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office, CNN said.

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CNN said it wasn't immediately clear why there were two reports or why there were inconsistencies, which CNN did not report.

Contacted by CNN, Jim Elliott, a lawyer for the Lowndes County sheriff and the Lowndes County coroner, declined to address specific questions about the reports.

The U.S. attorney's office in Macon, Ga., opened an investigation last week.

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A Georgia judge Thursday said he would decide whether to order a coroner's inquest, pending the outcome of Moore's review. A lawyer representing Johnson's parents, who asked for the inquest, said the family would appeal.

Lawyers for Johnson's family raised questions about apparent discrepancies in recently released surveillance images, demanding authorities turn over originals of the video that show time codes and other evidence that could indicate whether the video was altered.

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Elliott said his clients confirmed the video wasn't altered or edited by anyone within the sheriff's office. An attorney for the school also said it provided unedited video to the sheriff's office.

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