Richmond Hill family sues city, police department over teen's suicide

Richmond Hill family sues city, police department over teen's suicide

RICHMOND HILL, GA (WTOC) - Did the Richmond Hill Police Department and the City of Richmond Hill play a role in a teenager's suicide? A new lawsuit claims they did.

Two years ago, Sydney Sanders, 14, committed suicide. It was April of 2011 when the Richmond Hill High School freshman and homecoming queen hung herself in her bedroom. She was later discovered by her older sister.

A month and a half earlier, on Valentine's Day, Sanders attempted suicide for the first time and failed. The lawsuit claims photos from her failed suicide were shown by a detective on the case to his teenage daughter, who was a classmate of Sanders. The suit alleges the pictures were then shown to other classmates and when Sanders arrived back at school after treatment, within days, a second suicide attempt did not fail.

The lawsuit alleges the detective showed intentional, reckless, extreme and outrageous behavior and his and the city's negligence and misconduct lead to Sanders' wrongful death.

While a court will decide what the facts are, and attorneys for Sanders' family stand behind the factuality of their lawsuit and claims, mental health experts say if the allegations are true, despite the possible reasons for doing so, a serious offense was committed.

"It has potential for being a strict violation of the persons rights, but as soon as you tell a teenager something, they are going to tell somebody, and they will tell somebody and it will go viral in a mater of a few hours. It definitely is bullying," Craig Shaffer, a child psychiatrist with Jennings and Associates, told WTOC.

Shaffer says he can't speak about the specific allegations made by Sydney Sanders' mother against the detective, the city and the police department, only saying privacy and confidentiality in any teen bullying or suicide risk case is of the utmost importance.  If that privacy is breached, Shaffer says it  could have had a traumatic effect on any teen recovering from one suicide attempt.

Any person whose confidential photos of their body were shown to classmates, especially a fragile teenager, he says recovery could be dealt a severe, and possibly fatal, blow.

"It's hard enough to be in the hospital and recover from a trauma but to have it public knowledge, or even limited knowledge, by your peers you are retraumatized every time it comes to your attention," Shaffer said.

Neither side commented in detail Tuesday on the allegations of the lawsuit. Richmond Hill City Attorney Ray Smith told WTOC he has turned the case over to their insurance counsel. They have 45 days to respond to the lawsuit.

Sydney's mother, Laura Lane Maia, could not comment but her attorney, Carl Varnedoe would only say they want the truth to come out in court and believe every allegation made in this lawsuit is based on fact.

To take a look back at the WTOC Special Report from May 2011, Teen Suicide: Hidden Pain, Tragic Action, click the links below:

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