Criminal Justice

Dairy Queen manager accused of ridiculing teen worker is charged in his suicide

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Dairy Queen sign.

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A Dairy Queen manager accused of ridiculing a teen she supervised has been charged with second-degree involuntary manslaughter in connection with his suicide.

Harley Branham, 21, a manager at the Dairy Queen in Fayette, Missouri, was charged on Wednesday in connection with the suicide of 17-year-old Kenneth Suttner, report the Washington Post, the Columbia Daily Tribune and the Associated Press.

Branham was charged after witnesses testified about her alleged treatment of Suttner at an inquest called by the Howard County coroner. Witnesses said Branham made Suttner lie on the restaurant floor as he cleaned it by hand, and she once threw a cheeseburger at Suttner because he made it wrong. Suttner shot himself on Dec. 21.

Branham said in her testimony that she didn’t bully Suttner and her insults were done in jest. She said Suttner took her jokes in stride.

Suttner was also bullied at school by students who made fun of his weight and speech impediment, according to a friend of Suttner’s who testified. The coroner’s jury blamed both the Dairy Queen and the Glasgow School District for failures in training and prevention of harassment.

The school superintendent acknowledged that bullying occurs but said it wasn’t systemic.

Howard County Coroner Frank Flaspohler said the inquest was only the fifth he has held during his 24 years in the job. “I felt there was bullying going on and things weren’t getting corrected,” Flaspohler told AP. “Hopefully this makes the school pay attention to what’s going on. And it’s not just in that school. We all need to wake up and say this exists and we need to take care of it.”

Dairy Queen released this statement: “We first learned of the situation today and our thoughts and prayers are with the family. We are still in the process of gathering information but understand from the franchisee that the manager is no longer employed at this location.”

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