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Judge orders records from coroner’s inquest in teen’s death be released to Glasgow School District

A judge in Howard County has ordered that the records from a January coroner’s inquest into a teen’s death be released to the Glasgow School District.

The jury in the coroner’s inquest found that the suicide death of 17-year-old Kenneth Suttner was caused by harassment at work and school.

Judge Scott Hayes made the ruling in court Tuesday, although he added a protective order to the records. Under the protective order, the Glasgow School District cannot redisclose anything in the records to the media or the defendant, Harley Branham. The judge also ordered that parts of the records be redacted and said they can only be used in official proceedings.

Harley Branham has been charged with second-degree involuntary manslaughter for Suttner’s death. She was Suttner’s manager at the Dairy Queen in Fayette. Special prosecutor April Wilson argued in court Tuesday that the records from the coroner’s inquest should be closed because there is an ongoing criminal investigation.

“Certainly, I am not accustomed to having my records be subject to open disclosure during a criminal prosecution in my 15 years, but, you know, the judge’s order is the judge’s order and he went into a pretty specific protective order that gave me some assurances that these documents aren’t going to be misused, regardless of what my position is,” Wilson told ABC 17 News after the hearing.

The Glasgow School District said they are entitled to the records because some information from them was shared at the inquest, which was a public hearing. The district said it repeatedly asked for the records and filed a lawsuit in March to obtain them. A transcript from the inquest was previously released to the district, although the district wanted the records in full.

The jury in the inquest found that the Glasgow District and its staff followed bullying procedures and policies, but were negligent because unreported bullying occurred. The Glasgow District was not allowed to call witnesses, offer an evidence, cross examine witnesses, offer objections to hearsay and irrelevant testimony or defend its staff in any way. The attorney for the district said in court Tuesday that information in that inquest has caused harm to students, teachers and the district, and he wants to be able to defend them.

“We’re very pleased with ultimately where we’re at,” attorney Tom Mickes told ABC 17 News. “I think it vindicates the position that the board of education took and it gives us now an opportunity to get the whole story told and that people understand what a great school Glasgow is, and while it’s not perfect, when we have problems, our staff is on top of it and they correct those things.”

Mickes said he believes the board plans to seek recovery of its attorney fees and civil penalties against the prosecutor.

“This could’ve been avoided. It wasn’t, and now we’re going to seek to recover some of the fees so that money can go back to [being spent on] educating children, which is what we’re here for,” he said.

Wilson said she still has concerns about the release of the records.

“It causes me great concern because of course, during the course of any criminal prosecution regardless of whether or not it’s high profile, you have concerns that witnesses or potentially people with exculpatory information maybe don’t come forward or get intimidated or get scared off from cooperating with the prosecution, and certainly I have a big concern in regards to that,” she said.

Suttner’s family filed a complaint on his behalf to the Missouri Commission on Human Rights in June. The teenager died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on December 21, 2016.

“My heart goes out to the Suttner family, it’s a tragedy…but we don’t make that a better situation or memorialize his memory by attacking people who did not have culpability in it,” Mickes said.

A preliminary hearing for Branham is set for January 24.

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