In Missouri, the criminal courts are being used to send a message about bullying. An unfortunate case of bullying led to suicide, and the case surrounding that incident could change the way bullying is addressed in schools, workplaces, and criminal courts across the country.
Kenny Suttner was 17 when he died as a result of suicide in December 2016. After an inquiry into his death, over 20 witnesses reported incidents of Kenny being bullied at school and while he worked at a local Dairy Queen. The bullying incidents at work included Kenny being forced to lie on his stomach to clean under machines – a practice that wasn’t required of other employees at the location.
The school was found partly to blame, but it was Harley Branham who was Kenny’s manager at the Dairy Queen that ended up charged with involuntary manslaughter for her involvement in Kenny’s suicide. She was the one who required him to clean the store differently from his coworkers. Eventually, the charges were lowered and Ms. Branham pled guilty to third-degree assault. As punishment, she was sentenced to two years of supervised probation and 30 days of house arrest.
Additional findings placed some of the responsibility for Kenny’s death with the school district for failing to act on Kenny being bullied at school. The school district and Dairy Queen both reached agreements with Kenny’s family after the family sued. The agreements are private (which is pretty standard, but could have involved agreements to change policies about bullying and expensive cash payments to Kenny’s family).
Some states – including Nevada – have laws making bullying a crime. In this case, before they lowered the charges the prosecutors skipped those laws and went straight to charging Kenny’s manager at Dairy Queen with involuntary manslaughter – that means she didn’t mean to kill anyone, but she should have known her actions could result in someone’s injury or death. Eventually, she faced ‘lesser’ charges of third-degree assault, meaning she attempted to harm someone (but not kill them).
1) Why do you think the manager should have faced or not faced involuntary manslaughter charges?
2) Why do you think the manager should have faced the charges she eventually pled guilty to of third-degree assault?
3) In Nevada, NRS 200.900 makes using a phone or computer to bully someone a crime. A person under the age of 18 (a minor) can be prosecuted (charged and found guilty) as if they have committed a misdemeanor if they get caught. That means they might face consequences of up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail (in this case – since they’re minors – it would be juvenile detention which is a prison-like setting for people under the age of 18). How do you feel about this kind of behavior (which is commonly called cyber-bullying) being treated as an adult crime among people under the age of 18 in your state?
Be sure to provide full explanations for your answers. For more details, you can read the article this piece was sourced from here: