The family of Jon Carmichael isn’t interested in riches, their attorney Martin Cirkiel of Round Rock said Tuesday.
They want a heightened awareness of school bullying and its consequences.
To that end, Cirkiel said, he and the Carmichael family will probably hold a press conference in Joshua in the coming weeks to explain their side of an incident that concluded with Jon Carmichael, a 13-year-old student at Loflin Middle School, taking his own life last March.
The Carmichael family filed suit against Joshua ISD and representatives of the district Monday in federal court in Dallas. Joshua ISD representatives named were Superintendent Ray Dane, school board president Ronnie Galbreath, teacher Kenneth Randall Watts, teacher Walter Strickland, teacher Dayton Barone and counselor Elizabeth Rosatelli. All are listed as defendants.
Cirkiel said the district and the representatives had not been served with papers as of Tuesday.
“But they know about the suit,” he said.
Dane acknowledged he was aware of the suit. He added, “I haven’t seen it, so I have no comment, and if I had seen it, I would have no comment.”
Galbreath added, “Mr. Dane told the board about the suit Monday night. I have no other comment.”
According to the Carmichael family, the boy had been bullied at school, stuffed into a trash can and held upside down with his head in a toilet.
The lawsuit states in part:
“While Jon Thomas Carmichael was a student at the Joshua Independent School District he was bullied, harassed and called names, every day. He was bullied in physical education class and in the locker room, which was observed by staff, who did nothing. He was thrown into a dumpster, which was observed by defendant Strickland, who did nothing. On a number of occasions, Jon was accosted by a group of boys in the locker room which was observed by defendant Watts. He was placed upside down in a toilet bowl, and had his head flushed several times, at each occasion.
“These acts were observed by other students who failed to report the incident. Just prior to his death he was stripped nude, tied up and again placed into a trash can. 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.
“Not surprisingly, Jon became depressed and eventually suicidal because of these attacks. When he spoke with his counselor, defendant Rosatelli, she too did nothing about the bullying or his depression. Just a day or so before his suicide, Jon attempted to reach out to defendant Barone, who also did nothing. Last, and on the day of the suicide he reached out to another student and told her that he was going to commit suicide. It should come as no surprise that she was like her elders in the school community, as she too failed to report Jon’s outcry.
“Even though the district ostensibly had a policy in place to deal with known incidents of bullying and harassment, school district personnel clearly had an actual practice and custom of looking the other way. The failures rise to the level of conscious and deliberate indifference and also shocks the conscience of any reasonable person.
“Further, school district personnel attempted to cover up their acts and omissions. Specifically, school staff directed a student who had a video of the assault of Jon to destroy the video. In addition, the school district defendants had Jon’s personal journal, which spoke to issues of bullying and suicidality, and that has been knowingly destroyed, withheld or purposefully hidden by staff, as well.
“It is because of various acts and omissions of the school district defendants, individually, severally and in concert with each other, that Plaintiffs seek damages and compensation,
Individually and on behalf of the heirs of the Estate of Jon Thomas Carmichael.”
Cirkiel said he intends to leave damages awarded, if so ruled, to a judge and jury.
“The family filed this not for financial gain but in hopes this wouldn’t happen to another family,” he said. “If there are any financial damages at the end of the day, the family wants them put in trust to provide counseling for others and for an anti-bullying program.”
Cirkiel said the family contacted him about taking the case.
“It goes back a while,” he said. “Another family in the area had experienced a suicide. It was another little boy. I filed that case two weeks ago. We’ve handled a bunch of bullying cases. Thank God the children in the others have survived.”
Cirkiel said most attorneys won’t take bullying cases.
“We’re a step ahead of some others because of the legal climate,” he said. “We take these because we feel it’s the right thing to do. Bullying issues need to be kept in the forefront.”
Johnson County Sheriff’s Office investigated the circumstances of the death and made no arrests.
Cirkiel said, “Their job is to see if there was criminal activity, and I agree with them that there doesn’t appear to have been. Was there criminal activity that directly caused the suicide? No. Were there other acts that could have resulted in charges? Yes.
“I’ll say this: There is a propensity in our culture to punish bad behavior. Certainly that has its place. But the data shows and research shows that what we call zero tolerance is one of the most ineffective ways to deal with bullying. Punishing and bringing charges may be one tool that may be useful, The truth of the matter is we’d be much better served by teaching our children not to bully rather than just punishing them.”
Cirkiel said he believes the case will go to trial “in two years, if it goes to trial.”