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W&L counselor being sued for negligence, medical malpractice is still seeing students

Former Washington and Lee student Kionte Burnette is suing Rallie Snowden and the school for a total of $24 million.

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W&L counselor being sued for negligence, medical malpractice is still seeing students

Mickie Brown, ‘21, said this bed sheet along with several of the posters were taken down on Monday. Photo by Mickie Brown, ‘21.

Mickie Brown, ‘21, said this bed sheet along with several of the posters were taken down on Monday. Photo by Mickie Brown, ‘21.

Mickie Brown, ‘21, said this bed sheet along with several of the posters were taken down on Monday. Photo by Mickie Brown, ‘21.

Mickie Brown, ‘21, said this bed sheet along with several of the posters were taken down on Monday. Photo by Mickie Brown, ‘21.

Maya Lora

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A Washington and Lee mental health counselor is still seeing students, even though she was named in a lawsuit filed last week by a former student who attempted suicide.

Former first-year Kionte Burnette is suing Rallie Snowden for medical malpractice and negligence after he said she failed to properly care for him when he told her of his plan to commit suicide on Oct. 18, 2017. Snowden is the LGBTQ director at Washington and Lee University, in addition to being a campus counselor.

The lawsuit is dated Jan. 8 and details Burnette’s suicide attempt. He is suing Snowden for $12 million and Washington and Lee University for $12 million in a lawsuit filed in the circuit court for Rockbridge County.

In the lawsuit, Burnette claims he tried to kill himself on Oct. 18 after meeting with Snowden and informing her of his plan to jump off Cadaver Bridge. He also claims Snowden did not perform an evaluation of him at the time of his meeting or report what she knew to anyone else.

Snowden declined to comment to the Ring-tum Phi, claiming “confidentiality and the nature of an ongoing lawsuit.”

As of Jan. 14, Washington and Lee has not released a statement addressing the lawsuit. The university also has not addressed the revelations from the lawsuit, first reported on by The Washington Post on Jan. 9, with the student body.

On Sunday, flyers stating “suicide is not something to hide” were posted around campus by students, as well as a bed sheet with the same painted message above the stairs in Elrod Commons, leading down to the Marketplace. Mickie Brown, ‘21, said most of those papers and the bed sheet have since been taken down.

The lawsuit tells the story of a football player who struggled to adapt to life at Washington and Lee, a struggle that was intensified by a foot injury that prevented him from practicing and playing with the rest of the team. His depression and social anxiety worsened over the course of the fall semester of 2017, culminating in his mid-October suicide attempt, according to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Burnette’s social anxiety turned into social paranoia.

“Burnette was expressing social anxiety to the point of believing that people were watching him and trying to touch him at many social occasions and that other students did not want him on campus,” the lawsuit said.

Doctors at the University of Virginia’s hospital who cared for Burnette after his suicide attempt confirmed he was suffering from paranoid thinking and psychotic symptoms at the time of the attempt, according to the lawsuit.

But one student close to Burnette, who has chosen to remain anonymous, did not notice any large changes before Oct. 18.

“For the weeks leading up to the big happenstance, things didn’t seem that much different,” a student who lived on Burnette’s hall said. He said that the only change was that he had to help Burnette with his laundry since he was on crutches, because they both lived on the first floor of Graham-Lees on the Cannan Green side, which does not have laundry facilities.

The student said he knew Burnette was struggling because of his injury and suspected he was also struggling academically, but did not suspect his struggles were influenced by mental illness.

After the suicide attempt, the student only knew that Burnette was in a full-body cast, but not the events that led up to his injury. It wasn’t until the end of the fall term that the student found out Burnette would not be returning to campus.

The events of Oct. 18 began in Burnette’s Asian Art History class, which was taught by Melissa Kerin, according to the course listing for fall 2017. That morning, Burnette asked Kerin if he could be excused from an upcoming class museum field trip and go to the museum with his parents, who live in Salem, Va., instead. The lawsuit claims Burnette’s depression and anxiety were too overwhelming for him to attend the trip.

According to the lawsuit, Kerin told Burnette he would need permission from a dean to be excused from the trip. Although Dean Jason Rodocker is the dean of first-year students, Burnette met with Dean Tammy Futrell, senior class dean, with whom the the lawsuit says Burnette formed a bond.

After Burnette revealed to Futrell that he was feeling depressed (although he did not reveal he was suicidal), Futrell brought Snowden into her office to talk with him. Futrell then left her own office to give Snowden and Burnette privacy.

The lawsuit claims Burnette told Snowden not only about his depression and anxiety, but also described to her his plan to jump off Cadaver Bridge in order to kill himself. Counselors are allowed to break patient-counselor confidentiality when a student has expressed a desire to harm him or herself or others.

But according to the lawsuit, Snowden left the room after just five to 10 minutes with Burnette, saying she had another appointment. Snowden did not perform an evaluation on Burnette, but told him to attend classes and football practice and then sleep at the student health center.

Burnette went to his classes but stayed in his room rather than going to dinner, football practice or the health center. His football coach, Garrett LeRose, declined to comment for this article.

According to the lawsuit, Snowden called the health center at 7:20 p.m. to inform staff that Burnette would be staying there, but did not inform them of his suicidal thoughts. When Burnette did not arrive, Snowden followed up by sending him a text at 9:03 p.m. Getting no response, she called him. Burnette told Snowden he would not be going to the health center and Snowden requested Burnette promise not to hurt himself, which he did.

Shortly after the phone call ended, Burnette unsuccessfully tried to hang himself in his dorm room. His roommate, who is not mentioned in the lawsuit, did not respond to request for comment.

Several hours later, Burnette made a second attempt by purposefully falling off a gym balcony. He lost consciousness. When he woke up, he did not seek medical attention but went back to his room, where the lawsuit says he believed he would die in his sleep. He was in so much pain the next morning that he called for help and was transported to the University of Virginia.

He suffered many injuries, including facial and skull fractures and bleeding in the skull. He underwent surgery for some of his injuries on Oct. 20.

At the hospital, he was placed on suicide watch for several days after a note was found in his pocket. He later returned home with his parents and spent the rest of the semester there on medical leave. According to the lawsuit, he tried to return to campus for the winter semester, but was denied entry by Associate Dean of the College Gwyn Campbell because his application was a day late. Another student moved into his room that semester.

The student who lived with Burnette on his hall said that the hall was an “eclectic bunch” and that Burnette was not particularly close to any of the other residents. He was also the only football player on the hall.

The student added that he extended every effort he could to help Burnette and that Burnette was well-liked by the other students on the hall.

But Burnette was not the only one to leave the hall that year. The student said that the hall was challenged by a lot of “flux.”

“There were a lot of people moving in and out,” the student said.

The student added that Burnette was the first “seismic shift” of many. One student moved onto the hall during the pre-orientation period. Another student moved into Burnette’s empty side of the double. Another student transferred to another university. There were two dogs and one cat as therapy animals for various students on the hall.

The student has not heard from Burnette since Thanksgiving 2017. Burnette removed himself from his hall GroupMe at the beginning of winter term 2018.

Burnette now attends another university. He did not respond to requests for comment and his lawyers are not taking additional questions.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) provides a 24/7, toll-free hotline and is available for anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Hannah Denham contributed to this report.

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Maya Lora, News Section Editor

Maya Lora, '20, is a news section editor for the Ring-tum Phi. She is a double major in English and journalism. She is from Miami, Florida. Maya has been...

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