No charges to be filed in death of Oklahoma nonbinary teen

By Thomson Reuters Mar 21, 2024 | 8:10 PM

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – Prosecutors on Thursday announced that no criminal charges would be filed in the death of nonbinary Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict, who died one day after a fight at school that may have followed bullying due to Benedict’s gender identity.

The Oklahoma medical examiner on March 13 ruled that Benedict died by suicide from ingesting antidepressants and antihistamines, while also finding nonlethal wounds from the fight on Benedict’s nose and mouth.

The case of Benedict, 16, has drawn scrutiny from LGBTQ advocates who believe school officials may have overlooked abuse, and it has led to a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Education to determine if any laws were broken or whether the school district failed to respond to harassment.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler called Benedict’s death a tragedy in a statement, but said the conduct of juveniles involved in the fight in the girls’ restroom failed to rise to the standard of a prosecutable crime.

“I am in agreement with their (police) assessment that the filing of juvenile charges is not warranted. From all the evidence gathered, this fight was an instance of mutual combat,” Kunzweiler said.

Benedict, who was assigned female at birth, preferred they/them pronouns with some people and he/him pronouns among close friends, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group.

After the suicide determination, the Human Rights Campaign reiterated its call for a thorough investigation, and linked bullying and harassment to elevated suicide rates for LGBTQ youth.

Friends and family said Benedict had been harassed for months.

Kunzweiler said Benedict left brief notes that appeared related to the suicide and described the fight as “involving two groups of students” and lasting less than one minute after Benedict poured water over two girls.

“Apparently, comments were directed about how Benedict laughed, which was followed by the water pouring incident,” the district attorney said.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, California; Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler)