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No charges to be filed in school fight involving Nex Benedict: DA

todayMarch 22, 2024


Witthaya Prasongsin/Getty Images

(TULSA, Okla.) — No charges will be filed in connection with a fight that Oklahoma teen Nex Benedict was involved in a day before they died, the Tulsa County district attorney said Thursday.

Benedict, a member of the 2SLGBTQ community, got into a physical fight with several other students in a bathroom at Owasso High School on Feb. 7.

“From all of the evidence gathered, this fight was an instance of mutual combat,” Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said in a lengthy press release. “I do not have a reasonable belief that the State of Oklahoma could sustain its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt if charges were presented for prosecution.”

Benedict died by suicide on Feb. 8, according to an autopsy report summary released last week by the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The full report will be released on March 27.

Kunzweiler said the medical examiner’s report noted that “superficial injuries” consistent with the fight were visible, “but none of which caused or resulted in death.” The autopsy did not find “any evidence of an internal injury” that resulted in death, he said.

“An important part of the Owasso Police Department’s investigation was the discovery of some brief notes, written by Benedict, which appeared to be related to the suicide,” Kunzweiler wrote. “Although the notes do not make any reference to the earlier fight or difficulties at school, the parents indicated that Benedict reported being picked upon for various reasons while at school.”

The Benedict family lawyers have no comment at this time following Kunzweiler’s decision.

Following the news of the DA’s decision, GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis released a statement. 

“Time and time again, leaders in Oklahoma have showed that they don’t value Nex’s life, or the lives of other Indigenous and 2STGNC+ (Two Spirit, transgender, and gender-nonconforming+) students. Everyone from Superintendent Walters and Owasso High School to the unaccredited-since-2009 state Medical Examiner’s Office, the District Attorney, and Owasso Police Department have failed Nex Benedict and failed us all,” Ellis said.

“It is critical that an independent investigation is completed and the truth about what happened to Nex, and what all marginalized youth in Oklahoma schools endure, is brought to light. We will never stop seeking justice for Nex and we will never stop holding leaders accountable to serving their communities fairly and with compassion,” she continued.

Kunzweiler said that those involved in the fight were juveniles and had been “antagonizing each other” in the days leading up to the altercation. Based on witness accounts, Benedict poured water over two girls in the bathroom after “comments were directed about how Benedict laughed” and the fight lasted less than one minute, he said.

During an interview with police from the hospital in the hours after the fight, Benedict said that they had poured water on students who were making fun of the way they and their friends laughed and dressed, footage previously released by the Owasso Police Department shows.

“We were laughing and they had said something like, ‘Why do they laugh like that?’ And they were talking about us in front of us,” the teen said in the 21-minute video about the students they had an altercation with. “And so I went up there and I poured water on them. And then all three of them came at me.”

In the ensuing physical altercation, Benedict said they “threw one of them into a paper towel dispenser. And then they got my legs out from under me and got me on the ground … beating the s— out of me.”

“And then my friends tried to jump in and help but I’m not sure, I blacked out,” Benedict said.

Benedict was nonbinary and went by they/them pronouns, according to Benedict’s family. 2SLGBTQ includes Two Spirit, an umbrella term used to describe a third gender in Native and Indigenous communities. Sue Benedict, their mother, is a registered member of the Choctaw Nation.

Anti-LGBTQ bullying and violence have been the center of conversation in the aftermath of Benedict’s death, as Benedict’s family called for action and answers concerning the bullying they say the student faced in school.

Following the release of the autopsy report summary last week, the family called on education officials and lawmakers to “come together to prevent any other family from having to suffer through the heartache now borne by Nex’s loved ones.”

“Reforms creating school environments that are built upon the pillars of respect, inclusion and grace, and aim to eliminate bullying and hate, are the types of change that all involved should be able to rally behind,” the family said in a statement released through their lawyers.

The Department of Education has opened an investigation into Owasso Public Schools following a complaint from the Human Rights Campaign related to such concerns.

The school district has said that bullying “in any form is unacceptable.”

“We take reports of bullying very seriously and have policies and procedures in place to address such behavior,” the school district said in a past statement.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or worried about a friend or loved one, call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 for free, confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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