A lawyer for the family of Lennon Baldwin, the Morristown High School freshman who killed himself at his home after being bullied by three students in 2012, on Thursday claimed a “culture of violence” exists at the school and asserted that if administrators had dealt more forcefully with the bullies “Lennon would still be alive today.”
Attorney Jeffrey Youngman of Fair Lawn has filed a complaint in Superior Court in Morristown on behalf of Lennon’s estate and family.
They are suing current and former Morris School District officials they blame for failing to prevent the bullying, along with three young men who pleaded guilty to charges in the case.
The Morris School District said the accusations are unfounded.
“I don’t believe that there’s any factual support for these strong statements,” Vito Gagliardi, a lawyer for the District, told MorristownGreen.com.
“What happened was a tragedy. In the wake of that, the District reviewed its policies and procedures. There is no evidence that the District in any way is responsible for what happened here.”
District Superintendent Thomas Ficarra and former high school Principal Linda Murphy are among a half-dozen school officials listed as defendants, according to The Daily Record.
While the lawsuit seeks monetary damages, “nothing can bring Lennon back to his family,” Jeffrey Youngman told MG.
Lennon Baldwin, an avid bowler, guitarist and longboard skateboarder, hung himself at his Morris Township home on March 28, 2012.
According to the family, a chain of intimidating events started in a high school hallway on March 6, when Lennon was kicked in the groin–an assault captured on video by a security camera. The student who kicked Lennon was suspended.
Days later, in retaliation for the suspension, a teen threatened to throw Lennon off a rooftop parking deck, after the 15-year-old was robbed of $60, according to Lennon’s parents. Lennon was told the Bloods gang would come after him if he reported the robbery, his parents said.
Lennon was pressured to tell school administrators that the kick to his groin had been a joke, authorities said.
School officials immediately should have made it clear to the perpetrators that the suspension was a District decision made independently from Lennon, Jeffrey Youngman said. This could have prevented events from snowballing out of control, he said.
School officials also failed to promptly report the hallway incident to police, leaving it to Lennon’s parents, Sharon Varnelas and John Baldwin, the lawyer said. He further contended there was insufficient security in the high school at the time because of budget cutbacks.
“This was a problem waiting to happen,” said Jeffrey Youngman, who represented a Ramsey middle school student who received a $4.2 million settlement in a bullying case that left him paralyzed in 2006.
Two juveniles pleaded guilty to charges related to the assault and robbery and were sentenced to probation and 20 days of manual labor. Michael Conway, who was 18 at the time of his offense, received probation after admitting he lied to authorities by claiming he was not on the Century 21 parking deck during the robbery.
At the July 2012 sentencing of the juveniles, then-Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi told Superior Court Judge Michael Paul Wright that although certain facts were impossible to prove without Lennon’s testimony, “there is no doubt in my mind that these events ultimately led a very frightened, very scared young man to take his own life.”
While the District cannot discuss specifics of a case in litigation, Vito Gagliardi said, “there was a lot more going on here than one could imagine… A lot of individuals were involved, there were a lot of events. Trying to narrow the focus of this tragedy and pin it on our school district is inaccurate.”