The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office said it will not file criminal charges in the case of a Rockaway Township middle schooler who committed suicide last year and whose parents said the district failed to protect her from bullying by mean girls.
Mallory Grossman was a 12-year-old student at Copeland Middle School whose interests included gymnastics and cheerleading when she took her own life on June 14, 2017. Her parents, Dianne and Seth Grossman, say Mallory was subjected to taunts and humiliation by a group of popular girls whose acceptance she had sought. “When are you going to kill yourself?” was among them, the Grossmans said.
The couple insist that Rockaway school officials failed to protect their daughter in violation of a state anti-bullying law passed following the 2010 suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi. They have also sued the Rockaway Board of Education and Rockaway Township in a civil case now pending in state Superior Court.
But on Monday, a spokesman for Morris County Prosecutor Fredric Knapp put an end to speculation about whether criminal charges would be filed in the case.
“At the conclusion of a thorough investigation by law enforcement personnel it was determined that charges were not warranted,” read a statement released by the spokesman, Peter DiGennaro. “As prescribed by law, since this matter concerns juveniles there will no further comment by this office.”
Rockaway Board Education President Susan Salny declined to comment on the prosecutor’s decision.
“Since the Board of Education is a defendant in the civil litigation matter, there will not be a comment issued,” Salny wrote in an email.
The burden of proof in a criminal case is heavier than in a civil suit, and Rockaway’s township attorney, John Iaciofano, declined to characterize the prosecutor’s decision not to bring criminal charges as any indication of the township’s civil liability, or lack thereof.
“It may or may not be relevant to the civil case,” Iaciofano said.
The district has said little about the case, citing student confidentiality rules. However, the board did release a statement at one point branding the Grossmans’ allegations “categorically false.”
The lawyer representing the Grossmans in their lawsuit, Bruce Nagel, expressed disappointment in Knapp’s decision.
“I’m sorry the prosecutor’s office has not brought criminal charges,” Nagel said. “We will pursue the civil case.”
The Grossmans say Rockaway Superintendent Greg McGann and other district officials failed to take their and Mallory’s concerns seriously, and then took inadequate or inappropriate measures, including forcing their daughter to hug her tormentors.
“The facts are so powerful in this case,” Nagel said, adding that he was perplexed by the district’s unwillingness to settle the matter out of court, and thus avoid forcing the four young girls accused of tormenting Mallory to testify in a civil trial.
Nagel said Rockaway Township had sought to have the case against it dismissed. But Nagel said its motion was rejected last month by Superior Court Judge David Ironson in Morristown, and the township and school district both remain defendants in the suit.
In the wake of their daughter’s death, the Grossman have launched a non-profit organization called Mallory’s Army, dedicated to raising awareness of the overlapping issues of bullying, mental health and suicide. Dianne Grossman has given a series of talks to community groups, sharing her experience and giving advice to other parents.
NOTE: This article was updated to include comments from Rockaway’s board of education president and from the Rockaway Township attorney.