Angel Marshall, the mother of Aquan Lewis, filed a lawsuit on Jan. 29 in the Circuit Court of Cook County against School District 65 alleging wrongful death. Aquan, a 10-year old, fifth grade student at Oakton School, was found hanging in a school bathroom on Feb. 3, 2009.
The complaint alleges that on Feb. 3, 2009 at approximately 2:30 p.m, Aquan’s fifth grade class lined up in the third floor hallway at Oakton School to walk single file to the gymnasium, within the school, for gym class on the first floor. The complaint alleges that Aquan was not in the line, and no effort was made to determine where he was. At about 3:00 p.m., Aquan was found hanging from a hook on a bathroom/toilet stall door.
Aquan was taken to St. Francis Hospital and then transferred to Children’s Memorial Hospital. He passed away the following day.
The complaint alleges that District 65 and its agents and employees were negligent and acted in a willful and wanton manner by failing to provide protective services for the safety and well being of Aquan, by failing to observe and keep track of his whereabouts in the school, by failing to initiate a search for him in a timely manner, and in other respects.
Todd Smith of Power Rogers & Smith, the attorney for Aquan’s family, said at a press conference on Jan. 29, “If they observe a student is missing in action, they have a duty right then and there to find out where they are. … [Aquan] should never have been left alone and unattended to.”
The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office declared within 24 hours that the cause of death was suicide. At a press conference held on Feb. 17, 2009, Commander Tom Guenther, Public Information Officer of the Evanston Police Department, said the police had completed their investigation and that the police concurred with the Medical Examiner’s finding that Aquan’s death was self-inflicted.
At that time, Cmdr. Guenther said the physical evidence that supported their finding included that Aquan was wearing a polo shirt that was buttoned up to the top, that there was a footprint on the toilet seat in the bathroom stall, that there was no bruising and no indication of a struggle.
At the Jan. 29, 2010, press conference, Mr. Smith pointed to some evidence that he said raised questions about whether Aquan committed suicide and about what happened in the bathroom. He told the RoundTable he thought a suicide was “very unlikely.” He said, “I don’t know what happened in that bathroom, but we’re going to do our best to find out.”
Mr. Smith said the police relied on evidence that the top button of Aquan’s shirt was buttoned as evidence that he attempted to create a ligature around his neck for the purpose of hanging himself. Mr. Smith produced photographs of Aquan with the top button of his shirt buttoned in the past, and said this “obliterates the whole premise that this was done intentionally.”
Mr. Smith said evidence of a footprint on a toilet seat would not support a conclusion that Aquan stepped on the seat to place himself onto the stall hook, because an equally likely conclusion would be that it was placed there in an attempt to save himself.
Mr. Smith also said some physical evidence found in the bathroom had not yet been analyzed, specifically blood drops found 10 to 12 feet away, some blood found at the unrinals several feet away, vomitus near the urinals, and finger and hand prints found in the stall.
At the Jan. 29 press conference, Ms. Marshall said she did not think Aquan committed suicide. She said, “he never showed any prior sign of trying to hurt himself.”
The complaint contains four counts, two alleging negligence and two alleging willfull and wanton conduct. The only named defendant is School District 65, although eight persons are named as respondents in discovery.
Pat Markham, director of communications for School District 65, told the RoundTable, “Since this matter is in litigation, upon the advice of the District’s legal counsel the District has nothing to share at this time.”
Cmdr. Guenther told the RoundTable it would be inappropriate to comment on a lawsuit. He said, though, “We made a thorough and complete investigation and come to the same conclusion as the County Medical Examiner. Nothing has come to our attention to contradict those findings.” He added, “It was a very tragic incident and our sympathy and hearts go out to Aquan Lewis’ family.”