Just over two years ago, 15-year-old Billy Lucas took his own life after a sustained campaign of bullying at school related to his perceived sexual orientation, among other personal characteristics. Now, the Indiana teenager’s family is suing Lucas’ former school Greensburg Community Junior High, alleging that the school may have directly contributed to Lucas’ anguish.
“To the extent the school let him be subjected to this kind of torment is inexcusable. The school violated the law by not taking steps to protect him,” said Tom Blessing of Frazier Law Firm, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Lucas’ family.
According to the filing, “(Principal Rodney) King and (Assistant Principal David) Strouse had actual knowledge that W.L. (Lucas) was being harassed, but turned a blind eye to the harassment.”
The document continued, “At one point (Rodney) King told W.L. (Lucas), ‘If someone beat you up, I wouldn’t know whether to give him an award or suspend him.’”
Blessing believes the people named in the lawsuit may have contributed to Lucas’ torment at school.
The wrongful death lawsuit filed by Indianapolis Attorney Tom Blessing claims Lucas was a target for bullying because of several personal characteristics including his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), his ethnicity and his perceived sexual orientation. The suit directly implicates Greensburg Community Junior High School’s Principal Rodney King, Assistant Principal David Strouse and school employees Iris Ramp and Darci Kovacich.
The suit alleges that Ramp and Kovacich saw on “multiple occasions” Billy Lucas being harassed by other students but says they “did nothing” to intervene. Not only this, but the suit goes on to allege there is evidence that Ramp and Kovacich even “actively participated in the harassment of W.L. (Lucas) themselves,” saying that Ramp and Kovacich “verbally insulted, ridiculed and abused” Lucas in front of his peers.
Lucas was found hanging in a family barn in September 2010 and was one of several young people who took their own lives in a spate of suicides that garnered international attention that would eventually prompt the It Gets Better project.
While Lucas made no mention of bullying in his suicide note, several of his peers came forward to say that Billy suffered a sustained campaign of bullying, particularly around the fact that he was perceived to be gay even though he had never identified as such.
Reported Eyewitness News at the time:
“He was threatened to get beat up every day,” friend and classmate Nick Hughes said. “Sometimes in classes, kids would act like they were going to punch him and stuff and push him.”
Friends of Lucas say that he had been tormented for years.
“Some people at school called him names,” Hughes said, saying most of those names questioned Lucas’ sexual orientation, and that Lucas, for the most part, did little to defend himself.
“He would try to but people would just try to break him down with words and stuff and just pick on him,” Hughes said.
Ann Lucas, Billy’s mother, has said that Lucas had told her about the bullying just days before his suicide: ”He told me ‘Mom, you don’t know what it’s like to walk down the halls of school and be afraid of who’s going to hit you, who’s going to kick you.’”
At the time of the incident, the school said it was taking steps to ensure that all bullying-related problems were being dealt with properly. However, questions were raised at the time whether the school had done enough to combat bullying with several other students coming forward and saying they had been victims of mistreatment at the hands of their peers.
This is something the federal suit filed by Lucas’ family also alleges, saying that students have been given a green-light to continue to bully because the administration has refused to step in.
At the time of writing, Greensburg Community Junior High School’s attorneys have not yet issued a response.
It would be improper to comment on the particulars of this case without the response of the school in question, however, it can be said that should this lawsuit proceed, it has the potential to be set alongside a number of recent high-profiled bullying related lawsuits, including the Seth Walsh case and the Annoka Hennepin lawsuit that saw the Minnesota school district the subject of local and federal investigation over its “neutrality” policy on sexual orientation that, students alleged, allowed anti-gay bullying to become pervasive, and LGBT rights groups said was costing lives.
Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to Cesar Augusto Serna Sz