The compelling documentary “Bully” hits theaters in Atlanta – and nationwide – on Friday, opening with the story of a north Georgia teen who committed suicide after being bullied in a case that has turned into a nasty federal lawsuit.
The documentary and its anti-bullying message found itself in the middle of controversy when it was initially slapped with an R rating, meaning it would miss its core audience of teens. After a fight and threats to distribute an unrated version of the film, the Motion Picture Association of America backtracked and gave “Bully” a PG-13 rating. The film screens in Atlanta at Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema and AMC Phipps Plaza.
But that flap has nothing on the two-year legal battle being waged in Murray County, Ga., over the October 2009 suicide of Tyler Long, who was a 17-year-old student at Murray County High School in Chatsworth.
His parents, David and Tina Long, sued the school district in January 2010, alleging that the school district and the high school principal violated their son’s civil rights. The lawsuit spells out a disturbing series of incidents that Tyler allegedly suffered, including being spit on, chased, pushed down stairs, punched and verbally harassed. His mother has said the taunts also included being called gay, though the allegation is not included in the lawsuit.
In the buildup to the nationwide release of “Bully,” David and Tina Long went on a media blitz that included appearances on “Ellen” and “Good Morning America.”
Now, the lawsuit has taken a nasty turn with the Longs accusing the school district of entering into the court record information that show Tyler’s multiple health issues and his suicide note “to inflame the public.” The Longs have asked U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy to seal hundreds of pages of pleadings in the case, according to the Daily Report.
The parents “never realized there would be a lot of personal information that would be injected in the pleadings in the case,” Briggs said. “I just don’t see how they [the school district’s pleadings] have any purpose other than to try the case in the public.”
“Everyone grieves the loss of a young man under circumstances involving suicide,” said Matthew Moffett, an attorney representing the school system. “It’s tragic and heart-wrenching. But the bottom line is this school system has been sued and accused of things that have no basis in fact. And they are entitled to stand up and defend themselves with the truth and with the supporting evidence. And it’s not fair that they should be gagged or muzzled when their accusers have decided to go to the media and to Hollywood to advance their contentions.”