Harley Branham is facing manslaughter charges after allegedly bullying a teenager to death with what prosecutors say was relentless harassment and ridicule at the Dairy Queen where the accused served as a manager to the teen.
Prosecutors in Missouri filed a second-degree involuntary manslaughter charge against Branham for allegedly bullying Kenneth Suttner at the Dairy Queen where the two worked, the Associated Press reported. Jurors heard 20 hours of testimony this week and heard 20 witnesses before recommending the charge, the report noted.
Jurors concluded that both the Dairy Queen and the Glasgow School District where the teen attended were negligent and contributed to his death, the report added.
Friends of Kenneth Suttner — who was overweight and spoke with a speech impediment — said the boy was bullied relentlessly.
“A lot of people, kids, made fun of the way — basically everything about him,” the teen’s best friend Lexie Graves testified, (via the Columbia Daily Tribune).
Suttner took his life on December 21, when he reportedly shot himself in the head. While friends and family said that the teen was a target at school, the bullying was the worst at his job, the Washington Post reported.
“Perhaps the worst alleged offender, though, was Suttner’s 21-year-old supervisor at the Dairy Queen where he worked. Harley Branham, a manager there, allegedly did everything she could to make the boy’s life miserable.
“Allison Bennett, a former co-worker, testified that Branham constantly ridiculed him. She made him lie prostrate on his stomach while cleaning the fast food restaurant’s floor by hand. Once, she threw a cheeseburger at Suttner because he made it incorrectly, Bennett said. (Branham said this was all meant, and taken by Suttner, in jest.)”
The case against Harley Branham came about in an unusual way. After the teen’s autopsy, Howard County Coroner Frank Flaspohler took what the Associated Press noted was the rare step of asking a jury if the teen’s death was an accident or a crime.
“I felt there was bullying going on and things weren’t getting corrected,” Flaspohler said. “Hopefully this makes the school pay attention to what’s going on. And it’s not just in that school. We all need to wake up and say this exists and we need to take care of it.”
— Pepe Catastrophe (@PepeCatastrophe) February 3, 2017
The charges against Harley Branham were reminiscent of another high-profile case in recent years. In Massachusetts, Michelle Carter was charged with involuntary manslaughter after allegedly encouraging her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to take his life.
Roy was 18 when he took his life in July 2014 by filling his car with carbon monoxide using a generator. After the teen’s death, Michelle Carter led efforts to raise money for mental health awareness, but messages soon emerged that showed her encouraging Roy to follow through with plans to take his life even as Roy was having reservations.
— #ListenUpNG… (@KemiOdutayo) August 31, 2015
The charges against Harley Branham have gotten national attention, and even generated a response from the Dairy Queen corporate offices. The company released a statement this week noting that Branham had been fired from her position with the fast-food chain.
“We first learned of the situation today and our thoughts and prayers are with the family,” the company noted. “We are still in the process of gathering information but understand from the franchisee that the manager is no longer employed at this location.”
Despite the charges, Harley Branham has contended that her actions did not lead to teen Kenneth Suttner’s suicide.
[Featured Image by Mark Makela/Getty Images]