The families of three Florida high school students who died after being hypnotized by their principal will receive $200,000 each in a lawsuit settlement.
The Sarasota County School District’s School Board agreed to the settlement at their meeting Tuesday night.
School board attorney Art Hardy told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that they are ‘just happy to put this behind them.’
The parents of 16-year-old Wesley McKinley, 17-year-old Brittany Palumbo and 16-year-old Marcus Freeman filed the lawsuit against the school district following the back-to-back suicides of McKinley and Palumbo and the car crash that killed Freeman in 2011.
After their deaths, Principal George Kenney admitted that he hypnotized all three victims – including McKinley on the very day that he committed suicide in April 2011.
Further investigation revealed that Kenney had hypnotized as many as 75 students, staff members and others from 2006 until 2011 and that he had been doing so illegally since he was unlicensed.
One school official had even warned Kenney on three separate occasions that he was not to practice hypnosis on students without their parents’ written consent, but even that may have been illegal because he did not hold a license.
The settlement was reached on October 1, just days before the civil lawsuit was set to go to trial. The settlement is the largest possible payout without needing to get special approval from the state Legislature and governor.
But the parents of the three victims say they did not sue the school district for money, but to rather make sure something like this never happens again.
‘We are satisfied with the overall outcome, although this is a very hollow victory,’ Michael and Patricia Palumbo, parents of victim Brittany Palumbo, said in a statement.
Damian Mallard, the attorney representing the families, added: ‘It’s something they will never get over. It’s probably the worst loss that can happen to a parent is to lose a child, especially needlessly because you had someone who decided to perform medical services on kids without a license. He altered the underdeveloped brains of teenagers, and they all ended up dead because of it.’
After the string of deaths, Kenney was placed on administrative leave in May 2011, and resigned the following year.
In 2012, he was charged with two misdemeanors counts for practicing hypnosis without a license, for which he entered a plea of no contest.
He served one year of probation, during which he was not allowed to practice unlicensed hypnosis.
In 2013, he gave up his teaching license and has been banned from reapplying for another. He was last known to be operating a bed & breakfast in Waynesville, North Carolina where he also makes stained glass.
While the parents say the lawsuit provides some justice for their children’s loss, Mallard says they are ‘not happy about’ the fact that Kenney has been able to go on with his life with relatively no punishment.
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