Diary Queen manager Harley Branham was held responsible and charged with second degree involuntary manslaughter of an ex employee who committed suicide.
It’s an age old saying – if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. One can never be sure how someone will respond to inappropriate practical jokes. What can roll off the back of one person may hit home hard for another. Therefore, even when words seem harmless, that’s not always the case. And, no one wants to be held responsible for a person’s death.
Harley Branham, a 21 year old former Dairy Queen manager in Fayette, Missouri, has learned this the hard way after she was held responsible and charged with second degree involuntary manslaughter of an ex employee who committed suicide. Kenneth (Kenny) Suttner, 17, reportedly shot himself in late December with a .22 on a log just outside of his home. Almost twenty witnesses testified at a six hour inquest this past Tuesday, describing exchanges made between the two as inappropriate and Branham as unjustly cruel to the boy, ridiculing his every move. They had witnessed the manager make Suttner scrub the floor by hand on his stomach. At one point, she even threw food in his face she claimed he’d made incorrectly.
Branham’s bullying was coupled with that the boy endured from his classmates at school. He was made fun of relentlessly for his speech impediment and heavy stature. Branham doesn’t deny making fun of her ex-employee. She even admitted to calling Suttner an a-hole during the inquest. But she says the jokes were all in fun and Suttner was a good sport about it.
The superintendent of Glasgow Schools, Mike Reynolds, said that while bullying does occur, it’s not a widespread problem within the district. Others have disagreed. The mother of one of Suttner’s friends stated the boy spent his life “trying to tolerate negative words and actions.” She claims that some of the behavior was brought to the attention of school officials, but was simply disregarded. Another mother indicated she even moved her son to a different school, because the bullying had gotten so bad. She claims every time she made an effort to talk to those in charge, the problems only intensified.
Howard County’s Coroner, Frank Flaspohler, asked a six person jury to decide whether Branham’s actions were criminal, and whether the school district could have done something to stop its students’ ill behavior. This is apparently the fifth time Flaspohler has been involved in this type of situation in his 24 year career. In the end, the jury held both Dairy Queen and the Glasgow School District responsible for failing to provide proper anti-harassment information to students and employees. They concluded that Branham “negligently failed to properly train employees about harassment prevention and resolution” and the district was also “negligent in failing to prevent bullying.” They found Branham to be the catalyst or “primary actor” in the boy’s death. Dairy Queen released a statement indicating Branham is no longer employed at the franchise location.
Flaspohler hopes the inquest sheds some light on the consequences of bullying, and encourages school employees and the larger community to take it seriously. Suttner’s family feels justice was served.