For weeks, protesters demanded justice and prayed near the hospital where Lehrkamp was recovering. Lehrkamp said in an audio message to WSAV earlier this month that “justice will be served.”
During a news conference Monday, Glynn County’s police chief and district attorney disputed many points of that narrative. Officials said Lehrkamp willingly drank alcohol with other teenagers at a neighbor’s home, noting that the peers who drove him to the hospital probably saved his life.
Police arrested the homeowners — Carlton Strother, 46, and Lauren Strother, 56 — on Monday on charges of maintaining a disorderly house and contributing to the delinquency or dependency of a minor. They were released on bond later that day. The Strothers and their attorney did not respond to requests for comment from The Washington Post.
Police also charged a 17-year-old as an adult and two other juveniles in a separate investigation associated with Lehrkamp’s case. Investigators did not go into detail but said the charges were not related to the hazing allegations that had prompted protests.
“There were a lot of things put on social media that were inaccurate,” said District Attorney Keith Higgins. “There were a lot of people with fake profiles, people not even from this area, that were putting out misinformation, hitting hot-button topics that then got other people infuriated.”
Lehrkamp’s father, Mark, did not respond to requests for comment, but a family statement posted on Lehrkamp’s GoFundMe page on Monday criticized law enforcement’s response.
The statement said there are other instances of the teenagers mistreating Lehrkamp, who the family said is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It was evident that they wanted to address and correct what the kids didn’t do, but not recognize or acknowledge the fact of what was done to Trent,” the statement said. “At the end of the day, he was mistreated in inhumane ways. Trent was humiliated, being hosed in a chair and the joke of social media videos, and being taped to a chair and posed with in pictures; it is disgusting.”
On March 21, Lehrkamp attended a party at the Strothers’ home in St. Simons Island, Ga., with a group of high school students, Glynn County police said. Those teenagers later drove Lehrkamp to the Southeast Georgia Health System after he consumed vodka and antidepressants, according to police. Lehrkamp, who had spray paint on his body and hair, was unresponsive, according to a police incident report. He struggled to breathe and was put on a ventilator, police said.
In the following days, the photo of Lehrkamp passed out in a chair circulated on social media. The GoFundMe was created March 26 and claimed he had been mistreated by “vile and abusive perpetrators.” The fundraiser said Lehrkamp was battling fevers and a lung infection. More than $133,300 has been raised since then.
Lehrkamp’s father told police that Lehrkamp had returned from the Strothers’ home on other occasions covered in lubricant, vomit, paint, glue and egg yolk, and once with a cut above his left eye that needed stitches, according to the incident report.
Police announced on March 26 that they were investigating.
Multiple protests around Glynn County followed, including one led by Theawanza Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery’s aunt. In a March 29 news conference, interim police chief O’Neal Jackson III read a statement from Lehrkamp’s family saying they wanted to “prevent this from happening to anyone else.” In an audio message on April 2 to WSAV, Lehrkamp said he needed time to process “the trauma.”
On April 3, Jackson released a statement to debunk misinformation. The statement noted that Lehrkamp is not autistic, as some people had speculated, and that there was no evidence that someone had defecated on Lehrkamp or forced him to consume battery acid, two other rumors regarding the case.
“In the past days, our community has been challenged with a desire for swift justice and accountability, while balancing the need for a thorough and complete investigation,” Jackson’s statement said.
Investigators said Monday that they had collected witness interviews, medical records, phone data, search warrants and forensic evidence to determine the truth.
“Although I’m typically not allowed to talk about the details of any pending case,” Higgins said, “I am allowed to speak to address and correct misinformation that has been widely publicized.”
Higgins said Monday that Lehrkamp was not forced to drink alcohol and that he voluntarily sat in the chair for the photo. Lehrkamp’s peers drove him to the hospital after noticing his condition and stayed there to ensure he was treated, Higgins said.
Lehrkamp was drenched when he arrived at the hospital because he had asked his friends to spray water on him after an egg fight, Higgins said. Police said they are still investigating the case.
Despite charging five people, Higgins said the case’s public interest caused police to fall back on other investigations.
“It just has diverted a lot of resources to a matter that, while serious, is not as serious as other cases,” Higgins said.