A Tennessee district attorney with a vehement anti-LGBTQ record won’t return criminal charges correlated to the event of a bisexual teenager who committed suicide after being outed online.
Channing Smith, 16, of Manchester, Tenn., had admitted to a few friends about being bisexual. Two teens, including one who had acquired a text message directly from Smith, distributed screenshots of his text messages on Instagram and Snapchat. Channing, distraught from the fact that his sexual orientation had been shared online without his prior consent, subsequently ended his life in September.
Members of Smith’s family wanted Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott to investigate and indict those who shared the messages, but they had uncertainties of that happening because of Northcott’s history of anti-LGBTQ stances.
Northcott issued a statement Tuesday saying there will be no criminal charges related to Smith’s death. “Upon the completion of the full investigation into the circumstances of Channing Smith’s death by the Coffee County Sheriff’s Department and this office and after a review of the criminal statutes of this state, I have determined that there is not probable cause to believe that any crimes have been committed in this tragic situation,” he said, according to The Tennessean of Nashville. “Thus no criminal charges or juvenile petitions will be sought by this office. The family remains in my prayers, and I hope that all of Channing’s friends and family can find peace in this difficult time.”
Smith’s family members are scrutinizing the law rather than Northcott individually.
“Supposedly there’s not laws in place that affect minors, and harassment and bullying have to show a pattern,” Channing’s brother Joshua Smith described to The Tennessean. “Hopefully we can get more modern laws in place. My main concern is it’s going to send a mixed message to these kids that they can do what they want and there’s not repercussions.”
The family will push for laws concerning bullying, especially cyberbullying, he added. “We need to start with some current laws that are very defined and that can be interpreted so, when something happens, a DA doesn’t have to spend 30 or 45 days trying to figure out how to interpret it, what to do, or what he can do,” he told Nashville TV station WZTV.
Joshua Smith and his father, David Smith, met with First Lady Melania Trump at the White House this week to discuss bullying, as she has launched a campaign, Be Best, to attempt to address the problem. Also attending was country music star Billy Ray Cyrus, whose daughter Miley Cyrus identifies as pansexual and is an ardent LGBTQ supporter. He had helped to orchestrate the meeting, and he later wrote of the first lady on Instagram, “I was blown away by your vision to make this world a safer and better place for the youth of America.” In her own Instagram post, FLOTUS Trump wrote, “Teaching positive online behaviors can ensure a safer future for our children.”
If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at (877) 565-8860. LGBTQ youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at (866) 488-7386. You can also access chat services at TheTrevorProject.org/Help or text START to 678678. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 can be contacted 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.