FAIRFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio – The Fairfield City School District is denying every allegation in a lawsuit filed by the family of Emilie Olsen.
The 13-year-old Fairfield Middle School student killed herself with her father's gun in December of 2014, police said. The federal lawsuit claims Emilie's death resulted from bullying by other students while she attended Fairfield Intermediate School and Middle School, that Fairfield officials – including the superintendent – knew about the bullying, and that they did nothing to stop it in violation of their own policies and the law.
In the first of two court filings this month, attorneys for the nine named school defendants and others denied all 22 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."
WCPO sought comment on the filings from attorneys on both sides. Pete Ney, who represents the Olsens, said he found it interesting that the school defendants "didn't attack the entire complaint."
"The school district has acknowledged the viability of most of the claims in our complaint," Ney said. "We were pleasantly surprised."
Ney would not comment further, saying: "We're not real interested in trying this case in the media."
Bernard W. Wharton, who represents the school defendants, has not returned WCPO’s call.
In the motion for judgment, the school defendants refer to several points in the lawsuit and claim:
- Not all of the incidents of bullying and harassment claimed in the lawsuit were reported to any school defendants.
- There is no allegation that school defendants were unaware of the fake social media accounts until Emilie's parents told them.
- There are no allegations that any of the school defendants were aware of any intent by Emilie to commit suicide.
In an I-Team investigation last May, WCPO uncovered the following information:
1) Ten days before she killed herself, Emilie told another Fairfield student in an online chat room that she was the target of mockery and had a plan to end her life.
“I’m causing all this trouble on Earth. And people look at me like I’m a freak and I’m tired of it,” Emilie wrote.
“I’ve made up my mind. I wanna die. My New Year’s resolution is to…have my perfect suicide go as planned.”
Yet, four days after her suicide, Fairfield City School District administrators were confident enough to release this statement to parents and students:
“There have been many rumors and misinformation about bullying with regard to this tragedy. The district has never had an indication – by self-report, or reports from others – that bullying has ever occurred.”
Then, a few hours later, district officials issued a second response that said, "The middle school administration was advised of previous concerns regarding bullying, however, the district believed the issue had been resolved with the complete satisfaction of the family."
2) One day after the district released their statements, Fairfield Township police closed their investigation into Emilie’s death, stating they could not substantiate “information regarding a particular person or incident that constituted bullying recently.”
The I-Team found emails, school reports, a social media account and more that showed the exact opposite was true.
Emilie’s father, Marc Olsen, wrote an email to school administrators Jan. 30, 2014 warning them Emilie had “become the target of bullying.”
“Emilie mentioned two girls…she is having problems with,” he told the school in an email obtained by the I-Team. “From what I understand, there has already been physicality – kicking, pulling hair, etc. – between them. Unfortunately, it goes beyond that…I have a bad feeling that if nothing is done then this has the possibility to escalate into something worse.”
On Aug. 15, 2014, Marc emailed the school again. He said Emilie was “uneasy” about the upcoming school year. He said she discovered several students “who had given her some grief (and) bullying back in the sixth grade” would be in her classes again.
He finished the letter by requesting Emilie be moved to a different schedule. The school complied with the request.
Emilie's father emailed administrators again on Sept. 8. He thanked them for meeting with Emilie, but said there were still problems.
“Emilie did say that (redacted name) is in one of her classes and she is making gestures/noises toward her that is making her very uncomfortable and disrupting her during class,” he wrote. “…We just don’t want to see an escalation occur if it can be avoided all together.”
According to her student file, school officials had concerns with Emilie’s academics and behavior in the seventh grade. The concerns led to conversations between administrators and her father on Oct. 17 and Oct. 23, 2014.
"I have a bad feeling that if nothing is done then this has the possibility to escalate into something worse," Marc Olsen told school officials.
3) In his emails to the school, Marc specifically warned administrators about a “fake Instagram account” mocking his daughter. The profile has been removed from Instagram, but images of the account were saved:
Emilie's dad told school officials about the fake profile a year before Emilie took her own life, writing, “we would appreciate you looking into this for us.”
“I plan to follow up with Instagram and attempt to have these things removed,” he wrote on Jan 30, 2014. “I looked at Instagram’s terms of service and they do not tolerate that type of behavior. My wife and I are deeply troubled by what is going on.”
Yet, when asked by the I-Team, then Fairfield City School Superintendent Paul Otten said he had never seen this example of online bullying against Emilie.
According to the school district’s bylaws, all bullying incidents must be “reported immediately to the superintendent (so) appropriate discipline is administered.” The policy also states “the superintendent must provide the board president with a semiannual written report of all verified incidents of hazing and/or bullying.”
On Dec. 19 – eight days after Emilie’s death -- Otten released a letter to the community denying bullying played a role in the student’s suicide.
He said “rumors” referencing bullying were being fed by “false reports” and “misinformation.” He stated the police investigation “did not find any credible evidence that bullying was a factor in this tragedy.”
Two weeks ago, Otten, one of the defendants in the lawsuit, announced he would resign at the end of the year to become superintendent of Beavercreek Schools near Dayton, Ohio.
4) Less than two months before Emilie killed herself, she was the subject of a fight in the school’s cafeteria, according to incident reports in her student file obtained by the I-Team.
The reports are each written by different students and detail a scene that involved profanity and shouting between multiple classmates on Oct. 21, 2014. Here are excerpts from the reports:
- STUDENT 1: “We were just telling the people to stop messing with Emilie Olsen and then she started calling people names and I got mad and told them not to call her that and she said she ain’t afraid of me.”
- STUDENT 2: “Alright, so last year in the sixth grade this girl was getting bullied like bad and my sister just heard about it so she went up to the girl and tries to be nice about it and all but then the girl (redacted) starts yelling at her and cussing at her!”
- STUDENT 3: “People last year were messing with the girl…and then it turned into a big fight…It was awful last year and people are still doing it this year and (we were) just telling them to stop.”
- STUDENT 4: “(They) asked me if I said for their friend to kill themselves last year. They were following me around asking me if I really did it. I said ‘no’ and she said ‘if you’re lying I will find you and fight you.’”
The I-Team took these incident reports and other evidence to Fairfield Township Police Chief Matthew Fruchey and Sgt. Doug Lanier. Both men said it was the first time they had ever heard about the documents, the Instagram account and the emails from Emilie's father to administrators.
Lanier said detectives went to the school after Emilie’s death and asked administrators and the school’s resource officer if Emilie had a history of bullying or was involved in any incidents related to bullying. He said the school told them “no.”
“We took them at their word and didn’t ask to see her file,” Lanier said. “We thought there was no reason to.”
According to the department’s official report, Fairfield Middle School Principal Lincoln Butts told detectives “at no time had Emilie reported any bullying to him or any other school officials this year.”
Fruchey said Fairfield Township police opened an investigation after Emilie’s death to determine if there were any “drivers” that would have motivated her to commit suicide.
Despite never seeing or asking for her school file, detectives closed the case in five days.
“We found no concrete evidence of bullying,” Fruchey said. “We were never given any reason to look in her file…our investigation never took us in that direction.”
The I-Team asked Superintendent Otten and City Attorney John Clemmons why they didn’t share Emilie’s file with police.
Their answer: Police didn’t ask for it.
“We cooperated fully with the police department to the extent that we believed our cooperation was being requested and sought,” Clemmons said.
The motion for judgment seeks to absolve all school defendants from the following counts on the basis of points of law:
- Failing to respond to 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.
- Violation of O.R.C. 2327.44 for hazing/bullying.
- 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 and Butts, the school defendants include the Board of Education and Fairfield City School District as well as:
- Jeff Madden (intermediate school principal)
- Mark Rice (middle school assistant principal)
- Allison Cline (intermediate school assistant principal)
- Melissa "Missy" Mueller (intermediate school assistant principal)
- Nancy Wasmern (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.
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.
According to the suit, Emilie, an Asian-American, was "continually bullied, harassed, assaulted, battered and discriminated against in school, and further bullied and harassed online because of her race, national origin and gender, as well as her association with Caucasian students and her perceived sexual orientation and practices.”
The suit states: “Emilie's parents tried to stop the bullying and pleaded with certain defendants for help. Defendants failed to stop the bullying and it continued. Consequently, Emilie suffered severe anguish, distress and depression and ultimately committed suicide."
The suit claims Emilie wasn't the only victim.
"Other students suffered unrelenting bullying and discrimination and two of those students attempted suicide before Emilie's death. Certain of the defendants likewise failed to intervene on behalf of these students," the suit states.
The bullying started when Emilie was a fifth grader at Fairfield Intermediate School and continued through the seventh grade at Fairfield Middle School, Emilie’s family claims in the suit.
WCPO's Maxim Alter contributed to this report