Parents of 8-Year-Old Boy Who Killed Himself After Prolonged Bullying Can Sue School District, Court Rules

Gabriel Taye took his own life at age 8.
Gabriel Taye took his own life at age 8.Handout

A wrongful death suit against Cincinnati Public School can go to trial, an appellate court has ruled, over the suicide of an 8-year-old who was bullied for years.

The parents of an 8-year-old boy who took his own life after being bullied for years have won a key legal victory in their battle to sue the Cincinnati school district, an appellate court ruled.

Education officials "recklessly" handled the prolonged bullying of third-grader Gabriel Taye "because they knew Taye was harassed and bullied at school" and "utterly failed" to protect him, according to an opinion written by Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Bernice Bouie Donald and released on Tuesday.

The decision allows a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the child's mother and father to go to trial. The parents contend school officials covered up several incidents of bullying and physical attacks against their son that they learned of only after his death.

Taye killed himself on Jan. 26, 2017. Days before, he had been attacked in a bathroom at Carson Elementary and knocked unconscious for more than seven minutes as students came in and out of the room, kicking and taunting him, according to surveillance video obtained by family attorneys and included in the appellate court documents.

Taye, described by his parents as a loving, cheerful child who loved to wear colorful neckties, hanged himself with one of his ties from the top of his bunk bed after returning home from school. His mother said he had only been alone for about 15 minutes when she discovered his body in the child's room.

The distraught woman, who is a nurse, tried unsuccessfully to revive him as a neighbor called 911, the family said.

Cornelia Reynolds, Gabriel's mother, said she was told by administrators that he had fainted and didn't need hospital care, the court documents stated. School officials said at the time that Taye did not report being attacked, The Associated Press reported.

The attack was one of 12 incidents that happened during Taye's three years at the school, according to court documents. 

After the family filed its suit, the district asked U.S. District Judge Timothy S. Black in Cincinnati to dismiss it. In 2018, Black ruled the case should proceed to trial, saying there was evidence school officials had downplayed or covered up the bullying. 

"The fact that Carson officially reported zero incidents of bullying in the first half of Taye's third-grade year, even though the behavior log documented several events described as bullying, may ultimately show that the board defendants were aware that bullying was being concealed at Carson," Black wrote.

“The allegations that the CPS defendants were aware that Taye had been knocked unconscious for several minutes by an incident of bullying and then – instead of calling the ambulance (as CPS’s policy on head trauma required) so Taye could receive medical care and notifying Taye’s mother of what happened to her 8-year-old son – they lied to his mother telling her that Taye had just fainted, shocks the conscience of the court," Black said in his opinion.

In December of last year, Cincinnati Public Schools appealed to the Sixth Circuit, seeking to overturn Black's decision. 

But the appellate court ruled school officials "Ultimately, prevented Taye's parents from fully understanding Taye's horrifying experience at Carson Elementary until it was too late," wrote circuit judge Donald. Her opinion noted that school safety guidelines warn that suicide can result from bullying.

The district's attorney, Aaron Herzig, told Inside Edition Digital in an email, "This is a preliminary procedural step in the case, not a final decision. It is based on plaintiffs' side of the story and assumes that everything they said in their complaint is true. However, it does not reflect the facts as they have developed throughout this case.

"We are considering our options. This case will continue in the trial court regardless," he said when asked if the district would appeal the ruling.