A judge grants a major legal victory to the school officials demonized by the documentary.
If you’ve seen the documentary Bully, you were likely affected by its portrayal of Tyler Long, a 17-year-old from Murray County, Ga., who committed suicide. The movie includes long sequences depicting Tyler growing up and his family’s grief after his death, as well as footage from a town hall meeting in which his parents, as well as other students and parents, vilify Tyler’s school, Murray County High, and the people who work there, for not doing enough to stop the bullying they believe led Tyler to take his own life.
I wrote about the one-sided and misleading depiction of Tyler’s death in Bully when the film came out. To the dismay of suicide experts, the documentary unquestioningly blames bullying for Tyler’s death, and takes the side of the Long family in blaming the school district for not doing enough to prevent it. Other pertinent facts are left out of the movie’s version of Tyler’s story, most glaringly Tyler’s troubled mental health history: He was diagnosed with Asperger’s and bipolar disorder. His family contests the bipolar diagnosis. Both conditions are linked to an increased risk for suicide.
The movie also neglects to mention that the Long family brought a $1.7 million lawsuit against the Murray County schools, also on the theory that school officials are responsible for Tyler’s suicide. (On television, Tina Long has said of the school officials, “I think they killed my son; I think they led him to do what he did.”) This week, the family’s suit was thrown out before trial by Judge Harold Murphy of federal district court in a thoughtful and even-handed 186-page decision. To fill in the gaps left by Bully, it’s worth looking at why Judge Murphy absolved school officials of legal responsibility for the tragedy of Tyler Long’s suicide.