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Suit: Fairfield tried 'shutting up' Olsen family

Posted: 11:53 AM, Apr 26, 2016
Updated: 2016-04-27 01:35:26Z

FAIRFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- As Cindy and Marc Olsen grieved their recently deceased daughter, they said her middle school principal showed up at their home, unannounced and accompanied by two police officers.

They demanded Marc Olsen let them into his home but refused to say why they were there, according to a federal lawsuit. One officer flashed his badge, the parents said.

Emilie Olsen had taken her own life just five days earlier, putting a gun to her head and pulling the trigger on Dec. 11, 2014. She was 13 years old.

But instead of being at their home to offer sympathy or support, Fairfield Middle School Principal Lincoln Butts and the officers tried to "intimidate Marc Olsen into 'shutting up' and ceasing all interviews with the local media," the Olsens claim.

"They told Marc Olsen he was 'stirring the pot' and 'entertaining rumors' and in doing so 'causing an issue for the school and the community,'" the Olsens said in a motion filed in federal court last Friday.

The latest filing in the lawsuit adds details and allegations that were not included in the family's initial lawsuit documents, which attorneys filed this past December .

Marc told Butts and the officers to leave his home, the lawsuit states; one of the officers told him to sit down because they weren't finished. Butts and the officers refused to leave not once, but twice, the parents allege.

Marc has been steadfast that bullying drove his daughter to suicide, something Fairfield City School officials have long denied. However, Emilie's history with bullying has been well-documented through I-Team investigations.

Fairfield City Schools has, in the past, declined to comment on the Olsen case. The district's spokeswoman Monday referred WCPO to the school's attorney, who has not returned phone calls for comment.

OUR INVESTIGATION: How bullying played a part in Emilie's death

 

Emilie was a straight-A student before the abuse began, the Olsens said. They said once the bullying began, her grades plummeted as she fell into a deep depression that would eventually lead her to suicide.

Her parents tried to get officials to do something about the ongoing physical and verbal harassment, according to their court filing, but they said the district did nothing to stop it in violation of its own policies and the law.

And, according to the Olsens, adults at Fairfield Middle School had adequate warning about Emilie's declining mental state: She completed a "True Color Personality Quiz" on Nov. 3, 2014, just a few weeks before she shot herself in the head. In that quiz, she described her "bad day symptoms" as "crying, depressing, yelling and screaming, passive resistance, and going into a trance."

Emilie's quiz was turned in to school officials and maintained on file, according to the Olsens' lawsuit.

Fairfield Middle School school never shared the results with Cindy or Marc Olsen, the parents said, and never offered Emilie counseling or support.

The quiz was administered less than six weeks before Emilie killed herself.

More Students Allege Abuse, Inaction

The Olsen family's latest court filing also paints a withering picture of Fairfield City Schools as a place where officials not only failed to act on reports of bullying, but in some cases, actively discouraged students from reporting it -- and took part in verbal abuse themselves.

Nine witnesses, all students, detail bullying they said they suffered while enrolled in Fairfield Intermediate School or Fairfield Middle School.

One girl says she was in the seventh grade when she found a note in her locker which read, "(Name), you're a dumb ***** your life sucks it will be for the rest of the year if you remain here die in a hole because no one likes you you're a ***** *** whore leave the school."

According to the Olsen's lawsuit, the girl gave the note to Butts, who did nothing. Her mother also met with Fairfield Middle School administrators about the bullying, but no one did anything, according to the lawsuit. She also was the subject of social media harassment, the lawsuit states.

The following summer, she spent 11 days in the psychiatric ward at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center because of a suicide attempt, according to the Olsen family's lawsuit. Fairfield City Schools still hasn't investigated, the Olsens allege.

 

Another girl at Fairfield Middle School claims she was slammed into lockers, bullied and harassed for her clothing, which included a Confederate flag T-shirt, and told to stay away from a black male student because she was white.

Through social media, bullies threatened to "murder (her) family" and called her a "racist ****," the Olsens' lawsuit states. Another message read, "I hope they shoot you cracker" and "hahaha you white people are pathetic."

In August and October 2014, she, too, was admitted to the psychiatric ward at Children's Hospital for depression, the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, the girl told her father about the problems, and her father told Fairfield Middle School administrators about her admission to the hospital. Her father met with Assistant Principal Mark Rice about the bullying his daughter suffered, according to the lawsuit, and "specifically asked Mr. Rice to review school surveillance cameras and find out who was involved with bullying" his daughter. Rice refused to do so, according to the lawsuit, and there was no investigation into the bullying.

According to the lawsuit, the bullying continued when the girl returned to Fairfield Middle School after her hospitalization. A private counselor came to the school to see her on Mondays, but, according to the lawsuit, school officials told the girl's family they didn't like that those visits occurred during school hours. The girl went to Rice and filed a bullying incident report, according to the suit, but no one offered any suggestions or gave any information about counseling.

Again, the lawsuit alleges no one followed up regarding steps in the investigation.

After Emilie Olsen's death, the girl said she was sent online messages stating, "I hope you die just like [Emilie Olsen]."

And the abuse wasn't limited to female students, the Olsens allege: One boy, a member of the select choir program, said he was called "gay," ridiculed for having a high voice and walking in an effeminate manner. The boy and his mother met with Butts and reported the bullying, according to the lawsuit. Butts accused him of lying and told the boy and his mother that he didn't want to add the bullying to his already-long list of everyday problems at the school, the Olsens' lawsuit states.

The boy submitted written anti-bullying reports, according to the lawsuit, but neither Butts nor anyone else investigated or took effective action to identify and discipline the students responsible. He also says he was the target of cyberbullying, with a girl repeatedly sending him messages calling him "gay" and making fun of him for his perceived sexual orientation. He submitted a complaint and showed the Fairfield fifth-grade principal screen shots, according to the lawsuit, but the perpetrator wasn't disciplined or separated from him.

The Olsens' lawsuit alleges the boy was also harassed by the choir director, who accused him of "having hair that was too long and implied it was too effeminate." The choir director handed him a pair of scissors and demanded he "cut it or go home," the lawsuit states.

"Humiliated, (he) went into the restroom and cut his hair with the scissors so that he would not have to go home," the lawsuit states.

The Olsens claim the boy was still suspended from choir, and his grades declined. He suffered depression, anxiety and severe emotional distress, according to the lawsuit. Eventually, his mother placed him in a different school.

Emilie, too, was bullied by a teacher, her parents' lawsuit alleges: In late October 2014, less than two months before her death, Rice told Marc Olsen that a witness had come to the principal's office to make a complaint about a teacher who berated Emilie for her poor school work and lack of friends. Marc said he immediately found and confronted the teacher, who offered no response; and, according to the lawsuit, Fairfield Middle School took no action to follow up.

Another girl, a classmate of Emilie's, said she was battered in gym class in October 2015 by a boy who also bullied Emilie. According to the lawsuit, she said the boy stuck out a hockey stick and tripped her; she fell, hit her head and doesn't remember the next few minutes. But, the lawsuit states, the gym teacher didn't evaluate her for concussion symptoms and didn't take any disciplinary action against the boy.

Her parents said they took her to a doctor, who determined she'd suffered a mild concussion. The boy bragged he tripped her on purpose because she was Asian, according to the lawsuit.

Fairfield Middle School officials told her father they reviewed surveillance images and would take no further action, according to the lawsuit. Eventually, with persistent pressure, they agreed to review it a second time, and it remains to be seen if he'll be disciplined.

The district's response "is indicative of Fairfield's continued pattern and practice of gross negligence in responding to incidents of bullying, battery, and racially based harassment," the lawsuit states.

In the case of another female student, the lawsuit states Butts "laughed about the bullying" she endured at Fairfield Middle School, and a school resource officer falsely told her mother and grandmother they didn't have legal authority to get a restraining order against the person she said attacked her.

Yet another student said she was bullied in person and online, according to the lawsuit, leading her to become depressed. Butts and Superintendent Paul Otten wouldn't meet with her mother about the problem, according to the lawsuit.

Lawsuit Alleges Failure At Every Level

In their multi-count claim against the Fairfield City School District, the Olsens allege a failure at every level -- from teachers to guidance counselors, assistant principals, principals and the district superintendent -- to provide a safe learning environment for their daughter.

Specifically, they allege :

  • violations of Emilie's right to due process by failing to address the bullying
  • discrimination on the basis of national origin
  • discrimination on the basis of her gender
  • violations of their obligation to respond to bullying, harassment and assault/battery
  • violated their obligation to respond to sexual harassment
  • violated their obligations to respond to race/national origin discrimination
  • deprived her of her rights under the Equal Protection Clause because of the racial discrimination
  • negligence and gross negligence
  • wrongful death
  • breach of duty of care and supervision
  • intention infliction of emotional distress
  • negligent infliction of emotional distress
  • hazing/bullying violations
  • failure to report child abuse
  • breach of express and/or implied contract
  • assault and battery against Emilie's bullies
  • defamation against some of Emilie's bullies
  • loss of consortium
  • trespass and intentional infliction of emotional distress because of the Dec. 16, 2014 visit to the Olsen home

The Olsens' suit seeks damages and reforms to the Fairfield City Schools practices and policies for responding to bullying, harassment, assault, battery and discrimination, it states.

District Denies All Allegations

Emilie’s school photo

In two separate court filings this month, attorneys for the district denied all counts against them. In the second filing, the attorney asked the judge to make a ruling on 10 counts without allowing the Olsens to introduce any evidence.

The school defendants stated in their April 12 filing: "The plaintiff's complaint fails to state plausible claims which entitle the school defendants to judgment on those claims in the pleadings."

The motion for judgment seeks to absolve all school defendants from the following counts on the basis of points of law:

  • failing to address the bullying
  • failing to respond to sexual discrimination
  • failing to respond to race/national origin discrimination
  • negligence and gross negligence
  • wrongful death
  • breach of duty of care and supervision
  • negligent infliction of emotional distress.
  • hazing/bullying violations
  • breach of express or implied contract

The school defendants' attorneys also asked the judge to dismiss the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against the school district, citing a state law that says a school district is a body politic and not an entity that can be sued.

Besides Otten, Butts and Rice, the school defendants include the Board of Education and Fairfield City School District as well as:

  • Jeff Madden (intermediate school principal)
  • Allison Cline (intermediate school assistant principal)
  • Melissa "Missy" Mueller (intermediate school assistant principal)
  • Nancy Wasmer (middle school assistant principal)
  • Erica Green (middle school counselor)
  • Candy Bader (intermediate school teacher)

Also listed as defendants are 11 John/Jane Does, including the Fairfield City School District Title IX coordinator/administrator and other employees, administrators and teachers.

Eight unnamed "minor students" are also defendants in the suit, along with John/Jane Does students and former students.

WCPO will update this story if the district's attorney responds to requests for comments in this case.

Latest filing in Emilie Olsen lawsuit