CINCINNATI -- The family of the Carson Elementary School third-grader who hanged himself last January filed a federal lawsuit against school officials Monday.
The civil rights and wrongful death suit claims 8-year-old Gabriel Taye's suicide resulted from a January attack in the boys' restroom that was caught by a school surveillance camera and that school officials covered up the attack and "rampant" bullying in the school.
WARNING: Viewers may find this video disturbing.
The suit says school officials "deliberately withheld vital information from his mother, including that he had been assaulted, lost consciousness for a considerable period of time, and was at risk of a serious head injury. Defendants informed his mother only that Gabe had fainted in the boy’s restroom and had recovered completely."
In addition, the suit claims "defendant school officials not only knew that student-on-student aggression was rampant, especially in the unsupervised bathrooms, but chose to cover it up rather than alert parents and the school community so the violence could be investigated and resolved."
The suit names as defendants the Cincinnati Board of Education, since-retired Superintendent Mary Ronan, Carson School Principal Ruthenia Jackson and Assistant Principal Jeffrey McKenzie.
WCPO has learned that Jackson has been assigned to another school for beginning this fall and that McKenzie has resigned.
The attorney for Taye's family, Jennifer Branch, said the video shows another student attacking Taye in the boys' bathroom two days before the suicide. The attacker was threatening and assaulting other boys when Taye walked in and shook the boy’s hand, according to Branch. The boy started to shake Taye’s hand but then grabbed his arm and yanked him toward the wall. Taye was knocked unconscious for over seven minutes while students taunted and kicked him, according to then suit.
Cincinnati Public Schools didn't release the videotape until May, four months after the incident. When it did, Ronan said the video shows Taye fainted and doesn't demonstrate any connection to his death. She also denied the accusation that he was attacked.
Cincinnati Public Schools released the following statement in response to the lawsuit:
Cincinnati Public Schools is aware that a lawsuit is being filed in federal court pertaining to the tragic death of Gabriel Taye and allegations that he was a victim of bullying on Cincinnati Public Schools’ property.
"As we have stated previously pertaining to Gabriel’s passing, “Our hearts are broken by the loss of this child, and our thoughts are with his parents and extended family. He was an outstanding young man, and this is a great loss for his family and our school community.
Now that litigation has been initiated, we offer no further comments regarding this matter at this time."
Police investigated Taye's death but did not file charges. However, after seeing the video, the Hamilton County coroner, Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco, reviewed the initial autopsy that made no connection to bullying.
The lawsuit accuses Jackson and McKenzie of engaging in a coverup once they responded to the bathroom and found Taye unconscious. The suit says Jackson and McKenzie violated school policy by not investigating or documenting the bathroom attack or reporting the bathroom attack to Taye’s parents.
Furthermore, it says “the school nurse acted consistently with Defendants Jackson’s and McKenzie’s established policies and practice when she told his mother that he had only fainted and did not need medical treatment.”
Jackson and McKenzie also knew the “history of bullying, violence and aggression” Taye faced at Carson since the first grade and failed to take steps to protect him, the suit says.
The lawsuit claims the behavior logs of just 10 students prove that Carson officials cover up bullying and aggressive behavior and that the two are problematic at the school.
While Carson officials reported no instances of bullying in the first half of the 2016-17, two logs specifically refer to bullying incidents, according to the lawsuit.
In addition, those 10 students are cited in 18 other incidents that include punching, choking, throwing chairs, assaulting teachers, threatening to shoot a teacher and threatening to rape a student, according to the suit.
Those incidents were required to be included in the semiannual report “but Defendants intentionally excluded” them, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit includes claims by other parents that their children were bullied and that school officials denied the incidents or didn’t report them to parents.
The lawsuit cites previous injuries to Taye that his parents now attribute to bullying at school. As a first-grader, his two front teeth were “pushed in” during an incident on the playground and had to be pulled. In the second grade, he was hit twice by students and had to be treated by the school nurse. Those incidents were not reported to Taye’s parents until after he died, the suit says.
The aggressive behavior increased in the third grade with punching and shoving, according to the suit. In some cases, Taye got in trouble for fighting back. This is a statement from the lawsuit:
"During third grade, Gabe was the victim of at least six incidents of aggressive student behavior. CPS Defendants did not notify his parents of three of these aggressive incidents. While CPS Defendants did notify his mother of three of these incidents, they withheld critical information that was needed in order for his mother to protect him from further harm.”
In the two weeks before Taye collapsed in the bathroom, he was attacked by two students and punched in the mouth, according to the suit. When McKenzie met with Taye’s mother and the boys, McKenzie called it “horseplay” and did not reprimand them, according to the lawsuit. Later that day, the two boys injured another child and McKenzie did not discipline them, according to the suit.
Claiming that there were 31 surveillance cameras at Carson, the lawsuit says school officials deliberately destroyed surveillance recordings of Taye being “bullied, harassed, and assaulted.”
Since his death, Taye's mother has said she was unaware of the extent of the attacks on her son or she would have sent him to another school. Taye's mother also said she had hoped the coroner's second examination would have answered questions about why he kiiled himself.
"Before Gabe was buried, neither the Prosecutor nor the Coroner knew Gabe was attacked in the school bathroom two days before he died," Branch said at the time. "Had the video of the attack been uncovered before the autopsy, more evidence may have been available. It is frustrating that the video was not revealed to his family until months after he died."
Sammarco announced that "the review did not reveal any information inconsistent with our original findings." Her office was unable to exhume Taye's body for a second physical exam. It did recover a tablet that had been buried with him.
"The Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office accepts the July 8th conclusion of the Hamilton County Coroner and our investigation is now concluded," spokeswoman Julie Wilson said at the time. "No further action is anticipated."