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Mom slams arrest of son who said he heard confession in Georgia gym death

By Victor Blackwell, CNN
updated 11:02 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mother says her son has mental problems and shouldn't have been questioned alone
  • Dalton Chauncey said he heard boys confessing to Kendrick Johnson's death
  • He was arrested August 6 and charged with providing false statements
  • Mom says Chauncey recanted when pressed repeatedly by police but says his story is true
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Atlanta (CNN) -- The mother of a Valdosta, Georgia, teen accused of lying to police about an alleged confession in connection with Kendrick Johnson's death says her son has mental problems and is being used by the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office as a "fall guy."

"They have literally slandered my child, and I don't appreciate that," his mother told CNN in a phone interview.

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Her son, Dalton Ray Chauncey, 19, was charged with providing false statements, a felony, and arrested August 6.

According to incident reports released to CNN after an Open Records Act request, Chauncey told neighbors he'd overheard two Lowndes High School students discussing their involvement in Johnson's death.

Johnson's body was found inside a rolled gym mat in the old gym at Lowndes High School in January 2013. Sheriff's investigators determined there was no evidence of foul play and closed the case in May 2013.

Chauncey told investigators two boys at Lowndes High School wanted to "ruff (sic) him up but they took it to (sic) far."

According to the arrest report, Chauncey gave deputies only the first names of those two boys. Investigators interviewed one student with a name matching Chauncey's claim. That student denied having the conversation.

Investigators say they were unable to locate any student with the second name Chauncey gave them.

Lowndes County investigators questioned Chauncey about inconsistencies in his statement July 23, according to investigative records.

According to the reports, "Chauncey admitted he had fabricated the story while at the home of friends in order to boast." The students he claimed had admitted involvement in Johnson's death "do not exist," the report said.

However, the teen's mother, Michelle Chauncey, says her son's story is true, but he told investigators he'd made up the story, hoping they'd end the questioning.

"They just went on and on and on, and he couldn't give them any more information and he said, 'OK, I made it up then,'" she said.

Michelle Chauncey told CNN she has problems with the way investigators interviewed her son, explaining that Dalton has mental issues.

"Really and truly, he shouldn't have been in there alone," his mother said. "I told (Det. Jack) Winningham he had mental issues twice."

Her son "may have some mental problems that prevent Dalton from performing certain work-related tasks," according to a March 2013 letter from the Social Security Administration provided to CNN by the Chauncey family.

"He's bipolar. His comprehension level is not like ours," Michelle Chauncey said.

Chauncey's family did not provide documents to CNN to support their claim of bipolar disorder.

"Anything with his hands, he can do it. But sitting down and thinking something out, no," Michelle Chauncey said.

Dalton Chauncey dropped out of the special education program at Lowndes High School in March, according to his mother. Chauncey told investigators he was "kicked out of school," according to an incident report.

"He's a good-hearted boy. He just gets screwed over a lot," his mother said.

According to an incident report, sheriff's investigators asked Chauncey to take a polygraph test July 29. Chauncey declined and told a detective "it was all over because he made it all up and it was a lie," according to the report.

A warrant was issued for Chauncey's arrest July 30. He was arrested the following week.

"(Det.) Winningham said he'd remain anonymous and he wouldn't get in no trouble," Michelle Chauncey said.

Michelle Chauncey says she spoke with her son by phone while he was being held at Lowndes County Jail.

"He said, 'Mama, I didn't lie about anything. The simple fact is they wouldn't leave me alone,'" she said.

Chauncey was released on a $2,500 bond August 7.

"He told the truth. I asked him several times if he was telling the truth and he said, 'Mama, I'm telling the truth. I thought I was doing the right thing, and it backfired in my face,'" Michelle Chauncey said.

In a written statement to CNN, an attorney for the sheriff's office wrote: "The Lowndes County Sheriff's Office has provided the records regarding the charges against Mr. Chauncey because of their relationship to the Kendrick Johnson investigation.

"However, the charges against Mr. Chauncey remain pending and any further communication about those charges would not be appropriate at this time."

On May 2, 2013, the same day the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office closed its investigation into Johnson's death, the state Medical Examiner's Office determined Johnson, 17, died of positional asphyxia after having accidentally slipped into the mat while reaching for a shoe.

Johnson's parents later hired an independent pathologist who found evidence of "unexplained, blunt force trauma" to the neck and classified the teen's death as a homicide.

Johnson's parents and their attorneys have accused the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office of covering up a murder.

Sheriff's office: Claim of confession in Kendrick Johnson death not credible

"They done this to my young'un," Michelle Chauncey said of her son's treatment. Speaking of Johnson's death, in her view "they're covering it up."

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The sheriff's office has denied wrongdoing.

Michael Moore, the U.S. attorney for Middle District of Georgia, launched a federal investigation into Johnson's death in October.

Georgia school officials sued in Kendrick Johnson's death

Attorneys Chevene King and Benjamin Crump have filed several lawsuits against Lowndes County officials. All cases are pending.

A court date has not been set for Dalton Chauncey.

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