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. You can’t prove the relationship between the suicide and the abuse, therefore the accused goes free.

    1. Don, You are correct. Criminal law should not be used to prosecute a-holes. There are not enough judges and prisons for that. Plus, as I said earlier, a lawsuit has a decent chance of success and a lower burden of proof. Money will not bring their son back, but money is always nice.

  2. Cleaning the floor on his stomach is normal discipline in our military.

    For crying out loud. He’s a restaurant employee, not a soldier. Idiot.

    Dairy Queen is properly held civilly liable for hiring this unprofessional wench and putting her in a supervisory position. Even she might have been properly held criminally liable for misdemeanor charges. Attempting to hold her criminally liable for this chap’s suicide is humbug.

    Some people exude vulnerability, and that attracts the vicious cretins in this world, who are particularly open about it in high school settings. There isn’t much school teachers can do about it other than shut the b******s up when they open their mouths in class, and not much administrators can do about it unless they can collar the b******s on some other offense or the abuse gets violent. It’s really up to fathers whose sons are facing this problem to work with them developing coping strategies (which includes teaching them to fight).

    What’s curious is that he came from an intact family and had 3 brothers. It appears to have been a farm family (he belonged to Future Farmers).

    1. DDS – why is it curious that he came from an intact family and had three brothers?

      1. Because the course of his young life suggests an absence of challenge and instruction from older (and stronger) males who have his interests at heart. With him, that wasn’t the case. Also, if he is from a farm family, one might expect he’d be less likely to fall into the role of ‘mother’s pet’ (see the Tyler Clementi case for an example of that).

        1. DDS – when I was growing up, the FFA boys were pretty tight, so they might have defended him. Siblings depend on their age for defense. Still, the school should have been protecting him and should not have placed him in a situation like that.

          1. No. The school protects you from blood splattering the walls, and it needs to come down hard on youths who disrupt the work of the school. It cannot protect you from humiliation amongst your peers, and, to some extent, there are social costs from elders intervening excessively in the disputes youths have with each other. His family needed to be teaching him when and how to fight back and how to take a punch (literally and metaphorically). For some reason they failed at it. Mothers are commonly clueless about the lives of their sons (and often about most everything but their own emotional states); fathers are often indifferent. Given the family configuration, it’s hard to tell what the issue was here.

              1. IOW, a mix of cluelessness and indifference.

                Noodling around a bit, it appears he may have been a first born son to young parents. Indications are that his father was born in 1979 and was only 19 when this youth was born in 1999. The mother would appear to be about a year older. Surprising they’ve managed to stay married. Teen marriages are usually fragile.

              2. The kid was heavy, badly groomed, and needed speech therapy. These are things the parents could have addressed but did not.

                1. DDS – the speech therapy the school district should be supplying. And under Mrs. Obama’s lunch program I cannot see how he was heavy. Badly groomed could mean a lot of things. Did he comb his hair and brush his teeth or could he afford new shoes when the old ones went bad. Was he wearing used clothing? Badly groomed needs more detail.

                2. Agreed. Parents makes life tough for their kids a lot of times. Soap and water is cheap, nutrition advice is boundless and speech therapists are in every school.

            1. DDS – having been bullied at school, I completely disagree with you. If bullying is going on in the school, then the school needs to take it in hand. Your parents can only do so much.

              1. If they collar youngsters beating on him, yes, they have to lower the boom. It’s not very clear here, but it appears the problem was ridicule and the effect of that on his emotional states. That’s much more challenging for school officials to address. The problem I see here is that employees of the school were making it worse than it would otherwise be.

                1. DDS – this is the sort of thing you nip in the bud in your classroom. You drop the hammer fast and hard. It disrupts your classroom.

                  1. Read the summary of the inquest testimony. Per his friend, it was going on ‘in every part of the school’ and there was at least one teacher who treated him with contempt. One other couple testified that they’d complained about the conduct of teachers to the superintendent and had been given the brush off. The teacher can scotch it in his classroom, not in the halls, in the schoolyard or on the street.

          2. One thing that may land the school in hot water was that there were incidents in which teachers ridiculed him. Not sure how often, but that actually is unconscionable, because that’s spreading out blood for the sharks.

          3. Another mother, Barbara Smith, said she moved her son out of the district because the bullying was so bad.

            “Every time we went to the school to do something about the bullying, it just got worse,” Smith said.

            Mary Korte, a friend of the Suttners, also testified that she and her husband had gone to the school board and told them of faculty bullying kids in the district.

            “These things were brought to the attention of the appropriate school officials, and it’s a shame it was swept under the rug,” Korte said.

            Glasgow School District Superintendent Mike Reynolds also took the stand, admitting that bullying happens in the district, but he said it is not a systemic problem.

            This is a summary of inquest testimony. Keep in mind, Howard County, Mo has a population of about 10,000 and two school districts. There are likely around 800 kids registered in the Galsgow school district. If it’s like similar school districts in New York, the superintendent’s office on site and you have an elementary school and a high school on the same campus, with the principals much more actively supervised than is commonly the case in an urban school district. It’s a reasonable guess he was running a shabby shirt-tails out operation and hiring teachers who’d been canned elsewhere.

    2. “It’s really up to fathers whose sons are facing this problem to work with them developing coping strategies (which includes teaching them to fight).”


      I was taught the manly arts at age 8. I used them once at age 10. Never had to do that again as the word spread. Respect is a wonderful thing.

      1. mespo, The feminization of our culture has created an upper middle class group of pussy males wearing man buns. I came from a street fighting town. I’m an easy going guy, but like yourself, was taught how to fight. Lower strata males still know how to fight. These man bun guys are fish in a barrel when they get out of their safe zones.

        And before anyone here gets their undies in a bunch, I’m not talking about this kid. I was a teacher and my heart would bleed for kids like this.

        1. Nick, it’s a reasonable inference his parents were farmers, and they certainly married young. By the way, the inquest jury had on it 5 men and 1 woman, drawn from the population of a county with 10,000 people living in it.

        2. I boxed in high school at the YMCA and played football. I think every boy and girl should know the basics of how to defend themselves. I also think every kid over age 15 should get a gun safety course and get some time at the firing range. Personal safety is ultimately your responsibility.

      2. mespo – you were lucky. I was in fist fights in high school about once a month.

          1. mespo – I was the smallest kid in my class. I was the one who fit in the locker, wastebasket or could be run up the flagpole. I was even hung out a window by my ankles one time. I always fought back. And I usually lost. But I left teeth marks on their ankles. 😉

    3. Future Farmers of America anecdote. The FFA used to[maybe still do] have their annual convention in KC, when I lived there in the 70’s/80’s. Politicians, including Prez candidates, would be keynote speakers. I worked for the prosecutors office and knew many cops. These kids would cruise the downtown streets looking for hookers. If they propositioned an undercover cop hooker they would usually get a lecture on big city life and sent on their way.

      1. Nick – coming from small towns they did not have experience picking up hookers. 🙂

  3. I think that one would have to be a fool to send your child to a 12 year government indoctrination center. This would not have happened if he were home schooled.

    1. Sure the instruction could be delivered in a home environment but if this kid received any services they would have to be paid for by the family.
      It’s not so much about indoctrination as it is daycare and social services.

        1. SSi certainly, but if the child has been identified and the parents accept an evaluation the school district does not have to provide services if that child is not enrolled.

  4. I don’t see a case unless they include the entire school and all of the employees.

  5. I think that the town should be prosecuted. Start with the Mayor and go downhill. Everyone who knew him should be prosecuted. Neighbors are guilty. The name of the town sounds Scot or Irish. Fly over and flush. Blame goes round. Where was the prosecutor while all this abuse was going on? The feds need to prosecute the prosecutor.

  6. Either parent should have been there for him through his traumatic teenage years. The Bitch should not have been charged, and someone should have told him how to report supervisor rage to the regional supervisor. And his co-workers should have been uploading her videos of torture to the internet. Payback is quiting early on the shift and let her finish up, or calling in sick for a week, and the she-devil not knowing when she will be able to use him on the schedule.
    Either way he would have one his unemployment check award.

    1. That’s the point with this. Sometimes in life, for many reasons, parents are just not there for their kids. If you grow up in a house with someone severely mentally ill and dangerous, it creates a reality that most can’t speak to. I am not well-versed in these legal matters (that’s why I read this blog), but I don’t see how she can be prosecuted. Hopefully she can wear the shame of her actions on her shoulders for the rest of her days. I doubt that though, one skill the newer generations of narcissists have is the ability to divert all blame and responsibility.

  7. Following the prosecutor’s initial logic here might as well charge the other employees as accessories while they’re at it. Especially if they testified to her cruelty but did nothing about it. Right?

    The environment accelerated his demise, but he brought his psychological provenance to that workplace.
    Apparently a bad combo.

    1. Apparently many parents are not training our children the reality of a tough world and how to cope with it.
      Denial is never a good thing.
      Cleaning the floor on his stomach is normal discipline in our military.
      And many are coming out and taking jobs that might have an impact on society if they cannot separate.
      Why is one allowed and the other is not? Shouldn’t both be defined as torture? What is happening to humanity?


  9. Such a beautiful child, Gone, forever.
    Not enough, is being done in our schools or homes, to help kids deal with this.
    Parents of bullies, need help too, in order to monitor the bullies.
    Parents need to be pro active…and on the ball.
    Peers, are cruel. Action, is needed to help the child being bullied.
    Does anyone think, i would allow my child to be treated, the way this child was treated in a job.?
    I would make their heads spin, with the lawsuit, I would slap on them.!

  10. This story is so depressing that I am going to play some Judas Priest records now and listen for subliminal “do it” messages.

  11. The article mentions that the unfortunate young man lived a tragic life–tormented by “bullies” over his weight and speech impediment. Bullies–the term is, obviously, plural. It means that more than one individual made his life a living Hell. How is it, then, possible, to attribute his death, by suicide, to merely one, abusive, cruel and inappropriate supervisor in a fast food joint? While she may have been one, of many, contributing causes, to his overall malaise and depression, it’s impossible to prove that the supervisor was the sole, procuring cause of his death. There were many factors–actually, many individuals–allowing this poor kid’s life to be defined as tragic–from the teachers and administrators at his school, who stood, idly by, as he was humiliated and destroyed on their watch, to the absentee parents, who never woke from their slumber, thereby permitting their troubled child to endure the relentless mistreatment at his school and place of employment. Plenty of blame, and guilt, to spread around. How should we divide the responsibility for his death among those players?

  12. It was either that or a school shooting which I’m convinced are caused by the same reason.

  13. This is so tragically sad and unnecessary. Any parent should be teary. I am. That said, we live not only in a bully tolerant country, but sadly bully friendly in many places. We reap what we sow.

    As for liability, absent actually encouraging suicide, just not sure how this ends up being criminally liable….at least not in a backward state like Missouri.

    I go to bed now doubting I will sleep well.

    1. at least not in a backward state like Missouri.

      What’s amusing is that you’re under the illusion that you’re a decent person.

  14. I think the school should bear greater liability than the restaurant manager. The school owes a greater duty of care to children who are required by state law to attend.

    The employment is a voluntary relationship, although they should also be CIVILLY liable because employing a minor should require a higher degree of responsibility for his care and well-being while at work.

  15. Tears are coming to my eyes right now for this poor kid. God where were his parents, hell if I was that kids father I can’t begin to tell you what I would have done to all of them. I can’t imagine the pain that boy suffered to drive him to take his life. Some one better make the school and those who abused that boy pay and pay dearly.

  16. I think some stories here, like this one in particular, I wish I could rewind and unread.

    Totally dumb, I admit: I humbly request you start the title of stories like this with “Warning, Discretion Advised.”

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