More charges have been filed against the former manager of a small-town Missouri Dairy Queen accused of bullying a teenage employee so relentlessly that he killed himself.
A special prosecutor filed an amended criminal complaint last week against Harley Branham, 22, of Fayette. It adds two counts each of aggravated stalking, third-degree assault and harassment. She was charged in February with second-degree involuntary manslaughter in the Dec. 21 death of 17-year-old Kenneth Suttner.
The amended complaint alleges Branham harassed and repeatedly called Suttner, causing him “emotional distress,” before he fatally shot himself outside his family’s home.
Branham’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for this week.
The Howard County coroner sought an official inquest following Suttner’s death, which is similar to a grand jury investigation but is public. Such investigations can be sought if a coroner believes a death could be related to a continuing safety and health hazard. In this case, the coroner said he pursued the inquest to publicly acknowledge bullying as a problem.
Branham testified during the inquest that she never bullied Suttner and that he seemed not to be bothered by jokes. Other witnesses said he’d been bullied for years at school and at work in Fayette, which is about 100 miles east of Kansas City.
Jurors concluded Branham “was the principal in the cause of death,” and Dairy Queen negligently failed to properly train employees about harassment prevention and resolution, according to the inquest’s verdict form. Jurors also found that Glasgow Public Schools was “negligent in preventing bullying,” although it followed unspecified policies and procedures.
Dairy Queen said in a statement earlier this year a franchisee independently owns and operates the Fayette location. The company had nothing new to release Tuesday.
Suttner’s parents, Mike and Angela Suttner, said previously in a statement “long overdue that the issue of bullying be brought to light.” They’re pursuing a discrimination charge against the school district with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights.
The district’s attorney, Conor Neusel, said there had been no reports Suttner was being bullied before his death and his grades were good. He said Tuesday that the “loss of the young man was a tragedy” but added that the “actions the coroner have taken have exasperated that.”