November 25, 2014

Medina
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Wrongful death suit filed over teenager’s suicide

Loren Genson and Kiera Manion-Fischer | The Gazette

A year to the day after 14-year-old Deven Baab committed suicide, his father has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Medina Schools, claiming school administrators could have prevented his death.

The father, Richard Baab, also has sued Akron Children’s Hospital in Summit County Common Pleas Court.

Richard Baab

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Medina County Common Pleas Court, names as defendants the school district and its board and Julia Schwendeman, a counselor at Claggett Middle School.

In the lawsuit, Baab charges that his son “had been the victim of harassment by teachers, and bullying and harassment by students in the Medina City School District system since approximately fourth grade.”

“Defendants, with knowledge of this, did nothing to stop the bullying and harassment and did not notify the appropriate individuals,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also claims school employees and counselors “were inadequately trained to or prepared to handle claims of bullying, harassment, students causing self-inflicted harm, and suicidal tendencies.”

Baab had taken his son to Akron Children’s Hospital on Oct. 31 after meeting with Claggett school officials, including Schwendeman, who reported the boy had cuts on his wrists.

The school officials had recommended against taking the boy to the hospital, according to the lawsuit.

At the hospital, the boy was diagnosed by two doctors as “non-suicidal.”

According to the lawsuit, Schwendeman called Baab on Nov. 1 and asked about the hospital visit.

Baab said he was given two “possible treatment options,” an inpatient program and outpatient counseling. He asked to be notified “of any other incident involving Deven,” saying “that if any further incidents involving Deven happened, he would admit Deven for inpatient care.”

The lawsuit charges that Schwendeman and other school officials failed to notify Baab that a mother of a friend of the boy had called the school on Nov. 16 — four days before the boy was found dead in his Medina Township home. The mother and informed the counselor “that she thought Deven was suicidal and possibly that he was being subjected to physical abuse.”

In a phone interview Wednesday, Baab said he believes that his son’s death could have been prevented if he had he been told of the mother’s warning.

“A parent can only react to the information that they’re given,” he said. “I wish I had something really inspirational to say. This is really is about trying not to have it happen to somebody else.”

Interim school Superintendent Dave Knight, who was hired April 23 to replace Superintendent Randy Stepp, said he was aware of the lawsuit, but couldn’t comment because “we haven’t been served with the papers.”

Schwendeman could not be reached for comment.

A spokesperson for Akron Children’s Hospital said the hospital had no comment at this time.

In addition to the hospital and its foundation, the Summit County wrongful death suit also names as defendants two physicians, Drs. Alison Lowen and Esther Lutes.

That suit charges the doctors “failed to question Richard about Deven’s behaviors and mental state, and failed to order or recommend appropriate follow-up clinical care and other appropriate measures, among other things.”

The lawsuit wasn’t a surprise.

The circumstances of Deven Baab’s death was the subject of a five-month investigation by Medina Township and Medina city police focusing on the issue of whether Schwendeman violated the Ohio law requiring educators and other professionals to report suspected child abuse or neglect.

City prosecutors declined to file charges against Schwendeman or a school secretary who also knew about the mother’s warning, saying “we do not believe ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ that either had reasonable cause to suspect” that Deven Baab “was being abused or neglected necessitating further reporting.”

While no criminal charges were filed, Kevin W. Dunn, an assistant city prosecutor during the investigation and now the county’s probate and juvenile judge, suggested Richard Baab might “seek a civil remedy,” by filing a lawsuit, according to Medina Township police records obtained by The Gazette and cited in a story in July.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com. Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.