March 28, 2011

Family of boy who hanged himself sues Joshua district

The federal lawsuit contends that school district officials knew of bullying incidents against Jon Carmichael and ignored them.

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A federal lawsuit filed Monday in Dallas accuses the Joshua school district and several school officials of violating the civil rights of 13-year-old Jon Carmichael by ignoring repeated acts of bullying against him along with his pleas for help in the days leading up to his suicide.

The suit was filed by Carmichael's parents on the first anniversary of his death and seeks damages and compensation for his estate and heirs.

Carmichael was a student at Joshua's Loflin Middle School, where the suit states that he was repeatedly bullied.

School employees failed to intervene when he was bullied in physical education class and when he was thrown into a Dumpster, the lawsuit alleges. In another incident, students saw -- but did not report -- that his head was placed upside down in a toilet and "flushed several times," it says.

Perhaps the most serious allegation involves one bullying incident that was posted on the Internet.

"Just prior to his death, he was stripped nude, tied up and again placed into a trashcan," the lawsuit says. "The event was videotaped, put on YouTube but was later taken down, at the direction of an unknown staff member, who also failed to report the incident."

On the day he died, the lawsuit states, Carmichael told another student that he was prepared to commit suicide and the girl told him to "do it, that no one cared."

Joshua school Superintendent Ray Dane, who is named in the lawsuit, said Monday that he had not seen the suit and had no comment.

The attorney who filed the lawsuit, Martin Cirkiel of Round Rock, said school personnel knew about many of the bullying incidents, then ignored or covered up other ones they didn't see firsthand.

"You have to show that the folks at the school district knew Jon was bullied and they did nothing about it," Cirkiel said. "The complaint factually details what happened."

The lawsuit also accuses school staff members of telling a student who had a video of the assault to destroy it and says Carmichael's personal journal has been "knowingly destroyed, withheld or purposefully hidden by staff, as well."

Last week, Carmichael's relatives and other families traveled to Austin in support of three anti-bullying bills filed in the Legislature.

Carmichael hanged himself in a barn near his family home on the outskirts of Cleburne. He was the second Johnson County teenager to kill himself in six months. In both cases, families attributed the deaths partially to bullying. In October 2009, Hunter Layland, a 15-year-old freshman at Cleburne High School, shot himself, his family said.

Joshua school policy requires principals or appointees to investigate reports of bullying within 10 days. Students are not to be unsupervised in athletic locker rooms for safety reasons, Dane told the Star-Telegram last year. But the lawsuit says those policies weren't followed as "school district personnel clearly had an actual practice and custom of looking the other way."

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698

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