The family of a 13-year-old who killed himself in 2010 amid allegations of bullying dropped their high-profile lawsuit this week, acknowledging a lack of evidence against the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD.
After Hamilton Middle School eighth-grader Asher Brown shot himself in the head in September 2010, his family charged that he was "bullied to death" for his small size, religion and for allegations that he was gay. In a case that garnered national attention on CNN and the "Today" show, Asher's parents claimed the school district had repeatedly ignored the problem.
Prior to the lawsuit, the family filed a grievance asking the school district for $4 million, officials said.
In dismissal documents filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, the plaintiff stated that there was no evidence that the school district withheld or destroyed evidence and that allegations that other students observed and reported Asher being abused in gym class were untrue.
"The only eyewitness they put forth actually recanted under oath and admitted to lying," Marney Collins Sims, Cy-Fair ISD's attorney, said Friday.
Sims said the discovery process revealed that Asher had been abused by "certain adults outside of school, had been diagnosed with depression and other psychiatric conditions, and had engaged in prior suicidal behavior on several occasions prior to his enrollment at Hamilton Middle School."
Martin Cirkiel, a lawyer for the 13-year-old's family, said Friday that the school system is better off because of the lawsuit. It prompted it to increase training and awareness on some sensitive issues, he said.
"The little boy was bullied while he was there. There's no doubt about it," the Round Rock attorney said. "The issue wasn't whether or not he was being bullied. The issue was 'Was there sufficient evidence to meet the legal standard?' and the answer was 'No.' "
Based on Title IX
Cirkiel added that the lawsuit was based on Title IX, meaning they had to prove Asher was being bullied because of gender or gender stereotypes.
"Because we were not able to make an essential element of the case, and as a matter of our ethical duty to the court, the school district and the many individuals involved on both sides of the lawsuit, we dismissed the lawsuit," he said.
Brown's parents, David and Amy Truong, will continue their advocacy work on behalf of other students who are victims of bullying, Cirkiel said.
On Sunday, Amy Troung wrote on her blog: "Today we were vandalized again. I think it has to do with Asher's case. People from the district have been deposed recently and other people have been questioned by our investigator in relation to the case. Leaks have made statements to others that have gotten back to us. All of this has been so difficult. Yet, no matter what happens, we have won. Everyone in the state has won. Laws have changed and everyone benefits from it."
Cost district $200,000
Texas passed an anti-bullying law in Asher's honor in 2011 to attempt to protect students who are victims of bullying.
Cy-Fair officials estimate that the lawsuit cost the district about $200,000.
It also did significant damage to the district's reputation, Sims said.
"I would say that the false and unsubstantiated allegations that were made - and I would categorize it as the media frenzy that followed - had a significant impact on the district and Hamilton Middle School," she said. "Two-and-a-half years later, references to Asher Brown being bullied and school officials ignoring it are still brought up on a weekly basis."