Teen Hangs Herself After Harassment For a 'Sexting' Message, Parents Say
CINCINNATI (CN) - A high school student killed herself after she emailed a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend and he sent it around to others at two high schools, the girl's parents claim in Federal Court. They sued the city, the school district, the ex-boyfriend and several other kids to whom he allegedly sent the nude photo, and who allegedly passed it on.
According to the federal complaint, the late Jessica Logan sent a nude picture of herself, from her neck down, to her boyfriend, defendant Ryan Salyers. After they broke up, he "proceeded to disseminate the photo of Jessica to a large number of other students at Sycamore High School and Loveland High School," according to the complaint.
Her parents say Jessica sought the help of Sycamore High guidance counselors, who referred her to the school resource officer, co-defendant Paul Payne, a City of Montgomery police officer. Payne told her he "could ask students to delete the photo from their phones but there was nothing else he could do," according to the complaint.
The parents say Payne claims he "confronted the kids who were harassing Jessie and took her to the prosecutor's to see if he could press charges but he said because Jessie was 18 there were no laws to protect her."
Payne advised her to submit to an interview about "sexting" with Sheree Paolello of WLWT Channel 5 TV in Cincinnati, according to the complaint.
The complaint states: "Officer Payne incorrectly told Jessica that there was nothing that could be done because she was an adult. He requested she submit to an interview with a television reporter.
"As requested by Defendant Officer Payne, Jessica gave a television interview on 'sexting' (sending risqué photos by text message) to the television reporter. During the interview, Jessica wanted to be anonymous, so she appeared in silhouette and her voice was altered. She spoke about the widespread harassment that she faced as a result of her photo being circulated at school and wept as she described her embarrassment and humiliation. Officer Payne was interviewed as well. The interview aired on or about May 20, 2008 and was widely seen by Sycamore Schools students, faculty, and administrators.
"On information and belief Sycamore Schools knew that Jessica Logan was the student interviewed along with Officer Payne on the television news show."
During the interview, Jessie said she wanted "to make sure no one else went through this same thing."
After the interview many students knew "Jessie Logan was the student interviewed along with Officer Payne," according to the complaint.
The harassment increased. Her fellow students called her a "slut," "whore" and "skank."
"She also received phone calls, text messages, and internet messages while at school from defendants Ramsey, A.R., Stachler, Richardson and students unknown to her, using similar slurs and epithets. Some peers went beyond the verbal torment and threw things at Jessica while she was at school and at school-sponsored events. This severe and pervasive harassment continued when Jessica would leave the school building, allowing her no reprieve from her tormentors. This continued through the end of the school year," according to the complaint.
"Jessica's grades and attendance at school deteriorated. She had planned to attend the University of Cincinnati after graduation, but her goals were jeopardized by her fear and distress at school. She skipped school because she was too emotionally distraught. Sycamore Schools responded by sending truancy notices and letters to her parents threatening that Jessica would not graduate. Sycamore Schools failed to investigate the harassment, failed to end the harassment, and failed to help Jessica with her emotional turmoil."
In an interview with Channel 5 after Jessie killed herself, her mom said that her daughter was so distressed she hid in school bathrooms to try to escape the harassment.
In July 2008 Jessie went to the funeral of a close friend who had committed suicide. That evening Jessie hung herself in her bedroom closet.
"I walked over into her room and saw her hanging," her mother told the TV station. "Her cell phone was in the middle of the floor."
In the Channel 5 interview after Jessie's death, her mother said the "police department didn't protect her. The school didn't protect her. She had no one."
As part of the same interview, the Sycamore Schools Superintendent said that no action was taken against Jessie's tormentors because some attended school in a different district, and because the picture was taken at home and not on school property.
Jessie's parents seek punitive damages for discrimination, civil rights violations, privacy invasion and emotional distress. They are represented by Jennifer Branch with Gerhardstein & Branch