iStock/Thinkstock(GLASGOW, Mo.) — A former Dairy Queen manager accused of bullying a Missouri teen to the point that he took his own life has now been charged with involuntary manslaughter, following the suicide of her former employee just days before Christmas, according to court documents.
Kenny Suttner, 17, died on Dec. 21, 2016 after he committed suicide outside of his home in Glasgow, Missouri. Earlier this month Harley Branham, 21, Suttner’s former manager from his part-time job at a local Dairy Queen, was charged with the felony of involuntary manslaughter in connection with Suttner’s death, the documents say.
The move comes after the Howard County Coroner’s Office performed an inquest into what caused the death of Suttner. The verdict of the inquest, filed Jan. 31 and released by the Howard County Coroner’s Office, found that Suttner had been harassed, “both at Dairy Queen and at school.”
The coroner’s jury of six people said that they found Branham, “was the principal in the cause of death.”
Branham, who made her first court appearance Tuesday, denied the bullying allegations brought against her.
“There’s a lot of people at Dairy Queen saying I was the reason,” Branham testified during the inquest, “but I don’t understand why it would be that way.”
Branham’s attorney, Jeff Hilbrenner, told to local ABC News affiliate KMIZ-TV in Columbia, Missouri, “We look forward to the opportunity to present additional evidence and reviewing the evidence that the state intends to present in court.”
Branham did not enter a plea Tuesday and is out on $25,000 bond. Her preliminary hearing is set for May 25, 2017. If convicted, she faces up to four years in prison.
Dairy Queen’s corporate headquarters said in a statement that their Fayette, Missouri location “is independently owned and operated by a franchisee. American Dairy Queen Corporation does not employ the employees at the location and did not hire, employ or supervise the manager. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Suttner family. We are still in the process of gathering information but understand from the franchisee that the manager is no longer employed at this location.”
Suttner was a junior at Glasgow High School at the time of his death, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune. The Glasgow School District, found negligent by the inquest’s six-person jury, said in response to the inquest that they were not permitted to fairly defend themselves at the hearing.
April Wilson, the special prosecutor who filed the charges against Branham, said that the inquest that generated the charges had about 20 witnesses, and that “each witness was able to testify to different and specific instances to which they had knowledge of Kenny being bullied,” in an interview with Good Morning America that aired Wednesday.
Wilson said that during Suttner’s time at Dairy Queen, “there is one specific time that Kenny is standing next to the fryers that have hot grease in them and a cheeseburger is thrown at him and there were some disparaging remarks made to him about do it right or get out, and of course it was much more harsh than that.”
She added that some witnesses testified that Suttner was also forced to lie on his stomach on the floor in order to clean “under machines that could be moved, but he was forced to do it on his stomach.”
Wilson added that despite the unusual charges, she is treating this case as she would any other. “In this case, I come into the picture really little too late. The one person I want to talk to in this case is Kenny Suttner, and I can’t talk to him,” Wilson said.
Mike and Angela Suttner, the parents of Kenny, said that they hoped this case would help enact change to prevent other cases of bullying.
“It is long overdue that the issue of bullying be brought to light so that we can all work together to make change,” Mike and Angela Suttner said in a statement.
Mike and Angela Suttner also expressed their appreciation to their community for the support during the difficult time for the family.
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