Parents of teen who killed self sue Cy-Fair ISD
Parents of Asher Brown, the gay teenager whose suicide last fall helped ignite a national discussion on school bullying, filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday accusing the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District of violating the boy's civil rights when it failed to respond to complaints he was harassed for years.
"God put us here for a reason and we're going to take this mantle and do our best to represent the families out there who have kids that are going through the same thing and don't have a voice," said David Truong, Asher's stepfather, as he and his wife, Amy, discussed the lawsuit on the steps of the Texas Capitol.
Since Asher, 13, was found dead in his home of a single gunshot wound from his stepfather's 9mm Beretta pistol on Sept. 23, his parents have insisted it occurred after years of harassment by students at Hamilton Middle School, who picked on Asher because he was gay and a Buddhist.
The suit, which seeks unspecified damages and demands reform of school bullying policies and training at Cy-Fair, claims that other children's parents have had similar experiences with the school district but does not provide dates of incidents.
"I'm not sure we'll ever make a dollar from the Cy-Fair school district, but I guarantee you we have their attention and that's our goal: Get them to change the culture in that school district," said Marty J. Cirkiel, the family's attorney.
District not commenting
The suit claims that the Truongs contacted certain school officials when Asher was in sixth and seventh grade, but does not give dates, except for a Sept. 10, 2010, email Amy Truong sent asking a school counselor to keep an eye on Asher.
"Clearly school district personnel had an actual practice and custom of looking the other way to these incidents of bullying, harassment, depression and threats of suicide, not only by Asher, but with other students as well," the lawsuit, filed in Austin, states.
School district officials have said there is no record of the parents' complaints.
On Tuesday, they declined to comment on the suit. "I cannot comment substantively without seeing the lawsuit," Cy-Fair ISD attorney Marney Collins said.
Account of bullying
Records indicate that Asher's school life was not the only ordeal he was facing.
At the time of Asher's death, he was the only child in the house. An older teen brother had been hospitalized for mental illness just a few weeks before, according to a CPS report filed in the surviving brother's foster care court case.
The day before his death, Asher told his parents he had been tripped by another student and his books kicked down the hall. On the morning of his death, Asher told his parents he was homosexual.
"He told me the day that he committed suicide. The morning of," Truong said Tuesday. "I was fine with it."
Punishment in home
Asher went to school, came home and was found shot to death in a closet, where his stepfather's four guns had been kept.
After Asher died, Texas Child Protective Services began investigating the care of the boys.
CPS reports filed in the surviving brother's foster care court case state that David Truong was a strict disciplinarian, telling the boys to kneel for hours at a time on a brick fireplace hearth as punishment.
"Mr. Truong said that when he disciplines the children he would give them timeouts and make them kneel on their knees until they realized what they did was wrong," the CPS court report stated. "He said the amount of time they had to kneel on their knees was determined by the boys when and if they decided to tell the truth."
Asher's older brother told CPS officials that his stepfather once threatened the boys with guns, including placing a gun in the older boy's mouth. CPS placed the surviving boy in foster care.
Their parents said Tuesday that was not true and that their stepfather had taken out the guns to teach them about gun safety.
Parents deny findings
Nevertheless, CPS determined Asher's brother was not in a safe environment.
"Amy Truong appears not to have been protective of (brother) and his brother Asher from this physical abuse," CPS noted. "Mother appeared unable to protect her children … children were given inappropriate discipline from which their mother did not intervene."
The Truongs rejected the CPS findings and denied that the environment at home could have been part of the reason for their son's suicide.
"None," Truong said.
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