Mother of girl who died at DC boarding school urges passage of wrongful death bill

When Stormiyah Denson-Jackson took her life at a D.C. boarding school four years ago, there was no law barring a judge or jury from devaluing wrongful death lawsuits based on gender or race.

Her mother, Patricia Denson, has a bill to make sure any settlement linked to her daughter’s death comes with the highest payout.

“She was a child that deserved to have a bill to help other children,” Denson said.

She and a small crowd rallied at D.C. Council member Charles Allen’s house Tuesday afternoon because Denson believes the councilman is blocking the bill from getting a vote.

“Pass the bill,” Denson and the crowd chanted. “Pass the bill.”

Back in 2018, school leaders at the SEED Public Charter School of Washington found 12-year-old Stormiyah’s unresponsive body in her dorm room. A medical examiner confirmed that the preteen killed herself.

Denson said her daughter was bullied and the school didn’t take proper measures to stop it.

Then two years ago, Council member Trayon White introduced the bill aimed changing the way the legal system values wrongful death lawsuits linked to Black victims. He named it after Stormiyah.

But, it died before getting a vote, said civil rights attorney Ben Crump.

Now, Crump and his co-counsel believe the bill is being held up again.

“We should not have a debate on this issue. This should be a unanimous vote,” Crump said. “The clock is ticking, Councilman Allen.”

In a statement to WTOP, Allen’s spokesman said the bill is with the legal counsel for review.

“It’s an incredibly important issue,” said Erik Salmi, Allen’s deputy chief of staff. “The District would be leading the country in eradicating discrimination in legal damages when it passes.”

Crump’s co-counsel and former D.C. Council member LaRuby May explained to the crowd how Black lives are devalued posthumously during wrongful death lawsuits or medical malpractice cases.

“What the law allows, because it’s silent, is for jury and judges to say ‘Oh, this person would have gone to college, so their life is worth $3 million,'” May said. “But then they say, ‘Oh, she wasn’t white, she was Black, so let’s reduce it by $1 million.’ So, what begins to happen is the calculation of the damage is that a Black girl’s life is worth less than a white person’s life.”

California is the only state with a similar law. May said council members who wrote D.C.’s bill borrowed some of the language from California’s bill.

If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional distress, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255; you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting the word TALK to 741741; or you can call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

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