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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A case study of bullying: Ex-Freeman High School student says peer harassed him for years; alleged bully denies it

Freeman High School. (Eli Francovich / The Spokesman-Review)

Dana Condrey’s son didn’t want to leave his high school, especially not because of a bully.

But in September, the 16-year-old junior transferred to Ferris High School, after what the family describes as years of being taunted and beat up by a fellow Freeman High School student.

“It just got to the point where (he) just said, ‘I’m done. I want out,’ ” Condrey said.

The bullying started in the fifth grade. Five years later, in June 2015, Condrey’s son was thrown to the ground during gym class at Freeman by a fellow student. The fall blackened his eye and burst his eardrum, according to a police record of the incident.

Both boys were freshmen and the violence was captured on video and investigated by police. No charges were filed.

That was the most egregious and visible act in a long string of harassment and intimidation, according to the boy and his parents.

They obtained an anti-harassment order from a judge in October 2015 after a hearing where testimony and documents were submitted.

However, the boy accused of the harassment and his parents have been fighting back. Their attorney, Julie Watts, found the order troubling. So far those efforts, including a February ruling by the Washington State Court of Appeals, have failed.

“Anti-harassment orders have criminal penalties if they are violated, even accidentally, and having one on your record can prevent you from getting future employment or future housing,” Watts said in an email in response to questions about the case.

For instance, Watts said the order allows a kid to “sit down at the restrained kid’s lunch table so that he has to leave or can’t eat with his friends without being charged with a crime.”

However, Condrey, the mother of the boy thrown to the ground, said this is not a valid concern, since her son transferred to Ferris in September.

Robert Cossey, the attorney for Condrey and her son, said the family didn’t want to go to court, and tried multiple times to resolve the issue informally.

“It was the last resort,” Cossey said. “My clients didn’t have a lot of money. They didn’t want to hire me. They didn’t want to go through this process.”

In court documents, the boy who claims he was bullied wrote that he’d asked teachers and administrators to put a stop to the harassment numerous times.

“I have tried to do the right thing for many years but it hasn’t made it stop,” he wrote in a statement to the court.

The accused bully and his family claim the two teenagers were friends and that the incident in the gym was “simply an accident.”

“I have never physically threatened him or harmed him,” the boy stated in written testimony to the court.

His father is a member of the Freeman School Board and hired a private investigator to probe the claims against his son.

According to the private investigator’s interview with staff and students, no one witnessed the alleged bullying and harassment prior to the gym incident. Several of the alleged bully’s football teammates also wrote letters in support of him.

However, an email exchange from 2011 documents an incident in which the alleged bully shoved the other child into a garbage can.

In that email, sent to a school staff member, the bullied boy’s father writes, “We can deal with a little childish play amongst boys … but we are really concerned that one day the pushing on ice into a garbage can is going to result in him hitting his head, (or) him getting really hurt by getting punched in the lower back.”

The alleged victim’s family claimed they tried multiple times to resolve the issues informally. However, the alleged bully’s family said they received no such communications, according to court documents.

In 2013, Condrey, the alleged victim’s mother, sent an email to a Freeman staff member claiming her son had “been punched, tripped, kicked, wrestled to the ground in the parking lot, spit on, pulled out of his chair, and hit in the head with a book bag” by the alleged bully.

That email was subsequently forwarded to the alleged bully’s father’s official Freeman School District email address, according to court documents.

The protection order allows the alleged bully to graduate from Freeman. However, he must stay 20 feet away from the alleged victim and may not speak to him.

In the appeals, the alleged bully challenged the validity of the anti-harassment order, claiming there wasn’t sufficient evidence, that the investigation wasn’t sufficient and that the incident in the gym was not indicative of a pattern.

Watts argued the anti-harassment order is not intended to be used to resolve what state code calls “schoolyard scuffles.”

However, the appellate judges upheld the October 2015 decision, claiming that by virtue of the police investigating the gym incident it had become more than a school yard scuffle.

“From these facts, it was reasonable for the trial court to conclude that (he) would likely resume harassment … as he had before, if the order did not extend through the end of high school,” the appellate court wrote.

Condrey said her son is shocked at the difference in school cultures between Ferris and Freeman.

“It was normal, it was part of the day,” she said of bullying. “And now he’s at Ferris and he never sees any of that, it’s not tolerated.”

Editors note: This story has been updated to include a correction that the case was not tried by a jury.