SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – Parents say their son killed himself because his school district did nothing to stop his classmates’ bullying and taunts that he was a “‘fag, and ‘queer’ and calling him ‘gay.'”
Bradd and Edna Hancock sued the North Sanpete School District and School Board, the Sanpete County Sheriff, and school administrators, in Federal Court.
The Hancocks say that throughout middle school and high school the district failed to supervise and protect their son, whom they identify only as J.H.
Students began harassing J.H. on buses and in the halls of North Sanpete Middle School, “calling him names like ‘fag’ and ‘queer’ and calling him ‘gay,'” according to the complaint.
“At one point, in the eighth grade, [a student] pushed J.H. up against the wall and physically assaulted him,” the complaint states.
Sanpete is a rural county, smack dab in the middle of the state. Its county seat is Manti (pop. 3,276) and its largest city is Ephraim (pop. 6,135). The county’s population density is 14 people per square mile.
After the first assault in middle school, school security cameras captured another assault on their son, the parents say, but principal Randy Shelley refused to release the footage.
Shelley, a defendant, “indicated to Bradd [Hancock] that he did not care what happened in the future between the boys because if there was another incident involving J.H. – then J.H. would be expelled,” according to the complaint.
The parents add: “The middle school’s response, and particularly defendant Shelley’s response, was catastrophic for J.H. because J.H. now had no way out of the situation or to escape the bullying,” the complaint states.
The parents say a school counselor told them that the middle school was “trying to sweep the incident under the rug,” but “that if she shed truth on the allegations she would be terminated.”
The harassment continued. A student allegedly grabbed a towel from J.H. in the middle school showers, “poked J.H. several times in the penis” and urinated on the towel, the complaint states.
The parents say the bullying from three students – identified in the complaint by their initials – continued for the next 1½ years, “and the school district did not take any significant measures to stop the bullying and harassment.”
“The bullying by this group of students and the school district’s ineptitude in handling matter led to J.H. having a mental breakdown and being put in detention,” and “ultimately led to J.H. being put on suicide watch,” the parents say.
“J.H. feared for his mental and physical safety each time he went to school and the school district was indifferent to these experiences and allowed them to continue.”
When their son got to North Sanpete High School, the harassment “substantially increased.”
“In the ninth grade, C.B. substantially increased his harassment of J.H. C.B. threatened J.H. on several occasions, on school grounds, that C.B. was ‘going to kill’ J.H. and that J.H. ‘should plan on being killed,'” the complaint states.
The continuous bullying and “the school district’s complete failure” to stop it caused their son to be unable to sleep, “increasingly agitated” and “fearful for his life,” the parents say.
J.H. tried to kill himself in 2008, “which the school district was aware of,” his parents say.
“J.H. attempted suicide in 2008 because of the harassment and abuse he was suffering through, the school district’s seemingly inability [sic] to help him, the school district’s insistence that it was J.H.’s fault, and the hopelessness of the situation at school,” according to the complaint.
“J.H. began playing football in high school as an outlet for his fears, anxiety and depression,” the parents say. “The football coach intentionally made things worse for J.H.
“At the beginning of J.H.’s junior year of high school, the football coach, in front of the whole team, told J.H. that J.H. looked like a pedophile,” according to the complaint.
The Hancocks say the coach “was abusive and demeaning towards J.J. the entire time J.J. was on the football team. …
“J.H.’s football teammates took J.H. out one night and got him drunk and then lit his pants on fire, which caused J.H. a trip to the emergency room to remove the dead skin from his legs where he was burned.”
The complaint states: “In the fall of 2009, J.H. informed an assistant coach that J.H. was thinking of not playing any longer due to the football coaches’ harassment towards J.J. The football coach responded by punching J.H. in the face.
“The football coaches’ harassment of J.H. became insufferable and during J.H.’s senior season, before a football game, J.H. told the head football coach that J.H. was not longer going to play. The football coach grabbed J.H. and threw J.H. up against the wall and told J.H. that J.H. was going to play or else.”
When their son sought counseling from a vice principal about his “relationship problems with a female student at the high school,” the Hancocks say, the vice principal “attempted to intervene in the relationship and went so far as to ask the female student if she wanted to continue to date J.H. The female student responded that she wasn’t going to answer the question.
“J.H. related to Mr. [defendant vice principal Jason] Strate that he was concerned that the school district cared more about the female student than they did about J.H.’s life. J.H. sat in the fetal position in Mr. Strate’s office and wept.”
Bradd Hancock says he complained about the entire series of incidents to defendant principal Jim Bowles, upon which “the school district and its officials decided that J.H. needed to leave their district.”
The complaint continues: “Within two weeks of the Hancocks’ complaints to Bowles, J.H. was accused of sexual assault by defendant resource officer Cole Young. …
“Defendant Young pressed … teenage females to allege that J.H. had committed a sexual battery against them.”
The Hancocks say the school district “did not perform any meaningful investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse … nor were the acts verified to be true.”
Nonetheless, “law enforcement officials arrived at the school, handcuffed J.H., and took J.H. to the jail – without notifying J.H.’s parents of the allegations,” according to the complaint.
The parents say the school “sought out testimony” from three girls, who are identified in the complaint by their initials, and that “these three girls provided nothing meaningful to Officer Young and/or the county attorney that would result in increased charges against J.H.”
Nonetheless, the parents say, “A student with the last name ‘G’ informed J.H. and J.H.’s parents that he had heard Officer Young tell the attendance officer at North Sanpete High School that ‘J.H. had raped some girls.'”
J.H. was suspended. His parents say they tried to enroll him in another district, but could not, because the North Sanpete School District informed the other schools that J.H. had been “expelled.”
Finally, on Jan. 21, 2010, “as an actual, legal and proximate result of all the harassment alleged herein, and as an actual, legal and proximate result of all of the reckless, deliberately indifferent, negligent and other wrongful acts and omissions of defendants, and each of them, alleged herein, J.H. took his own life.”
The Hancocks say the defendants “engaged in outrageous conduct by intentionally not following state mandated policies concerning the prevention of suicide, hazing and harassment, and/or negligently permitting an environment where J.H. would be more likely to commit suicide, and where he was harassed and hazed.”
The Hancocks seek punitive damages for wrongful death, fraud and assault and battery.
They are represented by Sonny Olsen with Heideman, McKay, Heugly & Olsen of Provo.