Injustice

No charges filed against cyberbullies in death of queer Tennessee teen

DA Craig Northcott

Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott announced this week that he would file no charges against the students that bullied 16-year-old Channing Smith just prior to his suicide in September. Smith had been cyberbullied by the students, who outed him as queer on social media by posting a series of text messages he’d exchanged with another boy.

“My brother committed suicide because of the actions of 2 kids that he trusted that turned personal screenshot messages over to social media in a deliberate attempt to assassinate his character,” Channing’s brother Joshua wrote on Facebook just after his death.

Now DA Northcott has said he has no reason to file charges against Channing’s bullies. “Upon the completion of the full investigation into the circumstances of Channing Smith’s death by the Coffee County Sheriff’s Department and this office and after a review of the criminal statutes of this state, I have determined that there is not probable cause to believe that any crimes have been committed in this tragic situation,” he said in a statement.

Related: Tennessee teen commits suicide after classmates out him on Instagram

The announcement brought an immediate outcry from the Smith family, as well as from Channing’s supporters due in part to  Northcott’s own anti-gay past. Last year, Northcott attracted criticism for making homophobic comments at a Bible conference. Video also surfaced of Northcott saying same-sex spouses should not receive domestic violence protections since those are designed to defend the “sanctity of marriage.” He also posted several anti-Islam remarks on Facebook, including likening Muslims to members of the Ku Klux Klan.

The revelation of Northcott’s remarks brought immediate calls for his resignation and ignited an investigation by the Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility. Northcott could lose his law license pending the results of the investigation.

That potential penalty would come as too little, too late for Channing Smith and his family. “Until those laws can be changed to make situations like this a prosecutable offense, people will continue to assassinate others’ characters online without fear of charges,” said Crystal Smith, mother of Channing. “That is unacceptable. No family should have to go through this.”