Dairy Queen Supervisor Charged With Manslaughter After Suicide By Teenager

aamwy0pThere is a novel criminal case in Missouri where the supervisor of a Dairy Queen has been charged with manslaughter in the suicide of Kenneth Suttner, 17.  Suttner lived a tragic life — tormented by bullies about his weight and his speech impediment.  He finally could not take anymore of the abuse and on December 21 took his own life.  It is horrific to think of all of the people who made this boy’s life such a living hell.  However, the criminal charge against Harley Branham is problematic in seeking to hold her criminally liable in a suicide case.

Suttner faced bullies at Glasgow High School in Glasgow, Mo.  However, officials focused more on his supervisor at work.  Allison Bennett, a former co-worker, testified that Branham constantly ridiculed Suttner and even  made him lie prostrate on his stomach while cleaning the fast food restaurant’s floor by hand. She recounted out Branham threw a  cheeseburger at Suttner after he made it improperly.

Branham has insisted that all of this was a joke but the police believed that it was the impetus for his suicide.  Suttner went out on a cold, snow covered day and shot himself with a .22 pistol.

Howard County Coroner Frank Flaspohler invoked his right under Missouri law a to seek an official inquest — allowing a six-person jury to decide whether the boy’s death was an accident or a crime.  Roughly 20 witnesses testified at the six-hour inquest.  The jury found that Dairy Queen “negligently failed to properly train employees about harassment prevention and resolution” and that the school district was “negligent in failing to prevent bullying.” They also found Branham was the “primary actor” in the boy’s death.

Branham was charged second-degree involuntary manslaughter charge.  Even if she committed these despicable attacks, I am still concerned over turning such abuse into a form of manslaughter in a case of suicide.  The standard seems dangerously ill-defined for prosecutors in attributing cruel statements or actions to a suicide.

Here of the brief code provision:

565.027. 1. A person commits the offense of involuntary manslaughter in the second degree if he or she acts with criminal negligence to cause the death of any person.

2. The offense of involuntary manslaughter in the second degree is a class E felony.

I share the family’s anger over these allegations.  I also believe that there should be administrators and teachers disciplined if the school failed to address bullying. However a criminal charge raises difficult question of when such statements or actions will be elevated to the level of a felony crime.

What do you think?



103 thoughts on “Dairy Queen Supervisor Charged With Manslaughter After Suicide By Teenager”

  1. I see no problem with charging her. Heck charge the heck out of every bullies and then they’ll learn. Saying it was a “joke” is so disrespectful. I’m sure he wasn’t laughing. Bullies are horrid. I was bullied as a child and also as an adult, in my relationships, and it mentally breaks you. You feel like crap every waking moment. I have never wanted to kill myself but I do remember laying awake in bed wondering when it was going to end. People say bullying toughings you up but it only breaks you down or creates a monster–there is no in between. So many kids would be alive if not for the role bullies played in them ending their lives. This has to be seen as a serious problem and not something to look over or key quiet about.

  2. The coroner actually said that he was bringing the charge (it was the coroner, not the police, who initiated the proceedings) because he felt that bullying was an issue that needed public attention… That is not a valid reason to charge an individual with a crime.

  3. Sad, sad, sad. Seems like the school wanted to skate away from their responsibilities. The “manager” was just 21; his coworkers watched silently. What does this say about our culture?
    Do the business that hire young people to “boss” young people have any responsibility?

    1. A performance worthy of holding cell 1-H: far enough from the booking area you can put her out of your mind, close-enough to the restraint chairs if she begins harming herself.

      Just like every Saturday matinee at the gray bar Hilton.

  4. The upper windows of my university were sealed shut because so many students committed suicide, afraid to tell their parents about their grades, or that they wanted to be an artist instead of a doctor. And still, students would commit suicide by jumping into the quad or a variety of other methods. I would not want their grieving parents criminally charged for putting such intense pressure on their children that they broke.

    1. Karen, the suicide rate among adolescents and young adults is such that you can expect a public research university with an enrollment of 25,000 to have somewhat north of 100 suicides among its registered students over a 35 year period (unless university students are much more prone than ordinary late adolescents to kill themselves, which they may or may not be). If one’s method of suicide does not co-vary with one’s state in life, about 2 or 3 will be through contrived falls. Not all of these will be on campus or undertaken during the course of the school year (recall that Tyler Clementi died not on the campus of Rutgers University but 43 miles away at the George Washington Bridge). I doubt that’s the reason they sealed the bloody windows shut (unless they got their clock cleaned in a lawsuit).

      1. Perhaps it was an urban legend propagated by the students. Whenever someone jumped to their deaths after finals, the other students would remark that this was why the upper windows wouldn’t open. It might have been perfectly unrelated, however. In my major there were a lot of people under very intense pressure to live their parents’ dreams.

        1. “Whenever someone jumped to their deaths after finals”….

          Karen, somewhat north of 900 people a year in this country (at current rates) commit suicide through contrived falls. Less than 4% of the population are residential college students and the youth cohorts tend to have suicide rates about 1/3 lower than the general population. Absent some data from the National Center for Health Statistics which indicate that college students have suicide rates in excess of the norm for their peers or that college students are abnormally prone to jumping to their death, there are likely around 25 cases a year on the sum of all residential campuses in this country, give or take, and that includes those who killed themselves at any time of the calendar year. If you’re on a campus for 5 years and change, a good guess is that 140 college students nationwide during the time you’re a registered student. If you’re at a gargantuan campus (say, Ohio State or UT Austin, or the University of Toronto), you might expect this to happen once during your time there at any time of the year, not merely after final examinations .

        2. In my major there were a lot of people under very intense pressure to live their parents’ dreams.

          The most well-known case in the last 7 years of a college student jumping to his death was Tyler Clementi. He wasn’t on campus when he did that and he was not under any pressure from his parents at all. (In fact, he father seems to have been oddly detached from what was up in his household).

  5. First and foremost, my heart goes out to Ken Suttner’s family. When someone takes their own life, people wish there was something they could have done to prevent this.

    So, for anyone out there that is feeling like no one cares about them…people do. Ken Suttner has a lot of perfect strangers upset over his death and wishing they could have protected him. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 (http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org). Do NOT sacrifice your own precious life to bullies, and miss out on everything that life has to offer.

    OK, that said, where were others while Ken was getting bullied? The other students, teachers, principal, parents who heard about it, and his co-workers? I wouldn’t be surprised if Ken hid his troubles from his parents out of misguided shame, when it wasn’t his fault. But someone saw something. We as a society have a responsibility to stand up for the kid who gets picked on. Because there are people in this world who like to kick cringing dogs. Fear, weakness, lack of self confidence, and anxiety are a stimulant to them. And most of those bullies have been bullied themselves. And out of the run of the mill bullies are the true psychopaths who take great pleasure in causing pain, gas lighting, cutting off friends, and destroying someone. Psychopaths have very distinct traits that do not require murder. Their desire to destroy people is a type of compulsion, as is their pleasure in the act, especially if it’s drawn out. I have absolutely no idea what Harley Branham’s psychological profile is, but she certainly has some very troubling traits.

    I wish that Ken’s coworkers had given HR a heads up.

    That said, I think that Dairy Queen was clearly a hostile work environment, and that harassment went on that went unchecked. The company could be sued.

    Although I passionately condemn Ms Branham’s behavior, and believe she was guilty of harassment, I do not believe she is guilty of criminal murder. The charges that could be levied after suicide are staggering.

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ken hid his troubles from his parents out of misguided shame, when it wasn’t his fault.

      He went outside and cried when this Dairy Queen wench snarled at him. He wasn’t a rock of self-control. He had three other brothers. It’s not likely his mother and father were unaware of his problems in living, and if they were it was because all four brothers knew it was futile to bring it up.

  6. Jack, if you did that you would: 1. be held in contempt; 2. cause a mistrial; 3. pay a fine and costs, or even possibly earn a trip to the crossbar hotel.

  7. If I was defense counsel defending the suit, I would have a small choir sing this song out on the courthouse side yard outside the jury room while they deliverate:

    Through early morning fog I see
    Visions of the things to be
    The pains that are withheld for me
    I realize and I can see…
    That suicide is painless
    It brings on many changes
    And I can take or leave it if I please.
    I try to find a way to make
    All our little joys relate
    Without that ever-present hate
    But now I know that it’s too late, and…
    The game of life is hard to play
    I’m gonna lose it anyway
    The losing card I’ll someday lay
    So this is all I have to say.
    The only way to win is cheat
    And lay it down before I’m beat
    And to another give my seat
    For that’s the only painless feat.
    The sword of time will pierce our skins
    It doesn’t hurt when it begins
    But as it works it’s way on in
    The pain grows stronger… watch it grin, but…
    A brave man once requested me
    To answer questions that are key
    Is it to be or not to be
    And I replied ‘oh why ask me?’
    ‘Cause suicide is painless
    It brings on many changes
    And I can take or leave it if I please.
    … and you can do the same thing if you please.

  8. Unless you can interview the dead suicide self destruct kid then you have no evidence to prove the motive for the suicide. He might have left a suicide note. That would tell us. Then he might have blamed his boss. Or his mom. Or his stay at home dad. Or his fried mind. Or….

  9. ” The jury found that Dairy Queen “negligently failed to properly train employees about harassment prevention and resolution” and that the school district was “negligent in failing to prevent bullying.” ”

    sounds about right

    Corporations are people, right? Then let them be responsible for their ‘actions’….and their lazy ass self interest refusal and failure to act as well.

  10. One wonders where the impetus for such outrageous behavior comes from. Are these people throw-backs to ancient times, or are we in fact living in such times. I’m going to skip the legal speculations, as that’s all they are until the hammer drops, but the moral/humanitarian failings of the people reported on and bullies in general are just wrong. And no, at 300# standing 6’3″, I have NEVER been bullied nor done so. Tells us something – that bullies are cowards who are not about to pick on someone who will pick back, with interest.

    1. She’s a mean girl. There’s an irriducible minority of them among the female population. Most of them are no great shakes, if my own high school years are representative of the usual experience. I’m recalling a quartet from my junior high school years. Three of the four were vessels of pointless verbal aggression. The fourth hung around with them but wasn’t lashing out at people. The leader of the gang had a younger sister who was kinder and prettier (and a pair of older sisters who were, as far as I could tell, fairly reserved).

      1. Desperate, I taught middle school. The cafeteria was heartbreaking. Middle school girls can be some of the cruelest people on this planet.

        1. Nick – middle school girls are not only the cruelest, they are the most dangerous for male teachers. When I worked with them I would walk down the aisles with my arms up like a barrier so they could not touch me. They like to rub against you because you are ‘safe.’ However, they are not safe.

          1. @NickS and PaulCS

            Well, the fast girls among us don’t wait until middle school. I was a mean little girl when I was only 5 years old, and what I enjoyed about kiddie soccer was being able to kick the other little kids without getting in trouble for it. I even learned that it was better to do it when the ball was somewhere in the area!

            Squeeky Fromm
            Girl Reporter

            1. Squeeky – I am sure I would have loved to have had you in class about your junior year and above. Below that I am sure you were a terror to one and all. 🙂

            2. Sounds like this kid needed some psychological counseling. Kids like that grow up to abusive to people they see as vulnerable or weak. Anti social traits displayed at such a young age doesn’t bode well for a normal adulthood.

              1. Anthony Spicusa – it is amazing the number of students who mature mentally and emotionally between grades 9 and 10. I am not sure what they are drinking over the summer, but the change is noticeable in the classroom.

              2. The smart money says that would not have done a damned bit of good. People in that trade tend to be humbugs and quite useless generally.

                Look, he was 17 and had a ‘speech impediment’. Was he a hard case or was nothing ever done about it? They had speech pathologists when my brother registered for school in 1960. It’s not exactly a novelty in school systems. He didn’t have a proper haircut. He was fat. All that suggests half-assedness on the part of his parents. If they actually are farmers, they may be very pre-occupied with household tasks, but it doesn’t take that much time to take your kid to the barber and have him take the clippers to him.

      2. Girls can be absolutely vicious. Truly pointed words can be worse than the blows the guys trade, at times.

  11. what in hell did the woman do NEGLIGENTLY? Her acts were intentional.

    I’d be interested to know of this charge was made by police or a DA’s office? Also, if a lower court judge authorized an arrest warrant for this garbage charge? Don’t get me wrong, the defendant is despicable, but the prof is right, its a bogus criminal charge.

  12. “The Columbia Missourian reports that Branham has since been fired from the Dairy Queen for “unrelated reasons.”

    Branham writes in her about section, “I am who I am today not who I was yesterday and not who I will be tomorrow.” Her page is updated regularly with Branham espousing liberal political views.”

    I’m shocked. Shocked!

  13. “I believe in an “eye for an eye”

    That would simply call for the supervisor to wash the floor prostrate, be sworn at, and get a cheeseburger thrown at her.

  14. By this logic, if instead he’d murdered the Dairy Queen supervisor because of the bullying, it would have been justified as self-defense.

    1. That line has more to do with equality in the eyes of the law. A rich man’s eye is worth the same as a poor man’s and vice versa. A rich man cannot extort the poor man simply because he is rich and powerful and a poor man cannot evade the consequences of wrongdoing simply because he is penniless. They are equals under the law.

    1. Who is the plaintiff? The person with a cause of action against Dairy Queen went and killed himself.

        1. What, a wrongful death suit? That has the same problem a criminal case does. It incorporates a cockeyed understanding of causality. In the little town where I used to live, the mayor’s son committed suicide in 2005 some weeks after his wife moved out (taking their child). Should the mayor have sued his daughter-in-law?

          1. I mentioned that there’d have to be more facts than we’ve been given. In this state, a wrongful-death claim can be brought due to negligent conduct. There’s a duty of reasonable care in trade, which means exercising those skills or knowledge as would an ordinary member of the same trade. Did Branham exercise care to this standard in supervising Suttner? (It was likely extremely unreasonable supervision, and there are federal and state statutes preventing harassment in the workplace which may have been intended to prevent even this type of harm and allowing a cause for negligence per se for the estate of such an eggshell plaintiff.) And if Branham breached her duty owed to Suttner, was the breach a proximate cause of Suttner’s death?

            Something like that.

            1. Steve Groen – in my advanced emotional state (maybe I’ll turn liberal) I would sue the school and school district as well. Let them fight over the proximate cause of the suicide or split the damages.

    2. Agreed, but even proving wrongful death would seem difficult without more facts showing some foreseeability of suicide from harassment, I’d guess), and are there damages for infliction of emotional distress after death? Only the tort guys know.

      1. You may not have to establish foreseeability of the suicide itself to establish liability. If the Supervisor’s/employer’s conduct was negligent and harm was foreseeabile, the actual suicide need not be. Depending on more facts, there may also be a cause of action for discrimination/harassment on adcount of a disability. Even if his response to the misconduct was more extreme, you take the plaintiff (or decedent) as you find him.

        1. Richard – if this kid has a 504 her goose and the school’s goose are cooked.

  15. This will teach Dairy Queen not to hire anyone under the age of 34. That is top age of “Millenials” or what we now call Snowflakes.
    Don’t let a snowflake work. Don’t let a snowflake hear any bad talk. Don’t let them hear about race, sex, drugs, rock in roll, or timbucktwo. Home school all of em. Then segregate the homes from each other homes.
    – Oliver Wendell Holmes.

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