A former Washington and Lee University student from Salem filed a lawsuit Tuesday claiming a university counselor failed to offer him adequate services when he told her of his plans to kill himself.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Rockbridge County Circuit Court, seeks $12 million from the university and $12 million from Rallie Snowden, the counselor involved.
Kionte Burnette entered Washington and Lee University as a freshman in the fall of 2017. Shortly after the beginning of the academic year, he suffered a foot injury that prevented him from playing on the football team. The injury, along with feelings of anxiety, increased his depression and suicidal thoughts, the lawsuit states.
Burnette spoke with a dean at the school about a problem he was having in class and told her about his depression and suicidal thoughts. The dean called for a counselor to come talk with Burnette.
Snowden came to the dean’s office. According to the lawsuit, Burnette told the counselor he had plans to jump off a bridge on campus.
After speaking for five to 10 minutes, Snowden said she had to leave for another appointment. She told Burnette to attend his classes and football practice and then to stay overnight in the student health center.
Burnette attended his classes, but did not go to football practice or the health center. Instead, he went to his dorm room.
When Snowden discovered he did not go to the health center, she sent him a text message. Burnette did not reply, so she called him.
Burnette answered and told her he did not want to go to the health center. Snowden asked him to promise he wouldn’t hurt himself, and he made that promise. The call ended and Snowden made no other attempts to contact him or anyone to check on him, according to the lawsuit.
After the phone call ended, Burnette attempted to hang himself from the railing around the blinds in his dorm room.
Several hours later he went to the university’s gymnasium and intentionally fell off the balcony.
He lost consciousness when he hit the ground, but later woke up. He returned to his dorm room and expected to die overnight from his injuries.
When he woke up the next morning, he called campus public safety and was eventually taken to the hospital at the University of Virginia.
Burnette suffered multiple fractures, hematomas and an intracranial hemorrhage, the lawsuit states. He has undergone two surgeries since his fall.
The lawsuit alleges Snowden failed in her duties because she never performed a thorough suicide risk assessment, never performed a full mental health evaluation and did not have Burnette escorted to an emergency room for psychiatric evaluation.
“The care and treatment which Snowden provided to Burnette deviated from the applicable standard of care and treatment,” the lawsuit states.
A statement from Burnette’s lawyer, John Fishwick, said the case seeks to hold the university and the counselor accountable for their failure to “treat the acute mental needs of one of its students.”
The university did not return requests for comment.