About a 15-year-old’s Suicide and a Principal’s Grandstanding

Usually when teenagers kill themselves, people react with incredulity. Not in the case of 15-year-old Christian Adamek of Madison, Alabama, a suburb of Huntsville, AL.

Here’s what happened, at least as much as is publicly known at this point. On September 27, Adamek streaked across the field during a high school football game. Even this much is in some dispute. I read one comment that said he had a sock on over his privates that came off when he tried climbing a fence at the end of the so-called streak. Today I read another that claims he was wearing boxer shorts, which means this was no streak at all.

It’s unlikely that the mainstream media will clear this up. Now, they have clamped their mouths shut. Such wasn’t the case while Adamek was alive, however. More on that later.

It’s not entirely clear to me whether Adamek was arrested that night. If he had been, then there would have been no reason for school “administrators [recommending] that Adamek have a hearing in the Madison County court system to determine if formal charges would be filed,” as television station WHNT reported, since such a hearing would follow an arrest whether the principal asked for one or not.

There’s always a strong police presence at football games, so if the police didn’t think what happened required an immediate response, why did Sparkman High Principal Michael Campbell take it upon himself to speak as if he intended to criminalize the act?  It has been suggested that this was all about scare tactics, but why go on camera if there was never the intention to follow through? Was this Campbell’s “prank”?

By Tuesday, Adamek was no longer in school, and his sister tweeted he was “facing expulsion.” Not suspension, mind you, but expulsion, which means permanently kicked out of his school. Since the school-leaving age in Alabama is 17, he would have ended up at some rough alternative school, I expect. True, he hadn’t yet had his expulsion hearing, but principals usually get their way.

So academic future, chance of getting into most colleges: gone. Next few years of schooling: hell.

You might think that as extreme as that course of action seems, it would have satisfied Sparkman High School’s Assistant Principals and Principal Michael Campbell’s desire for— well, what exactly? And again, Campbell may have been acting in concert with the School’s vice-principals, but he is the principal. Shielding his underlings from criticism and taking all the heat himself may seem an act of valor, but if the most vigorous instigators of this scare campaign are shielded, how does this help students? If the others in the Sparkman administration aren’t willing to come forward individually and say, hey, it wasn’t Campbell acting alone: I put the pressure on Campbell to go to the press, then do any or all of them have the integrity and character to influence students?

Did Adamek realize that his brief run down the field would end his days as an ordinary high school student? I doubt it. Streaking doesn’t appear on the list of 72 offenses (58 of which are in the top tier, level 3) in the Madison County Schools Code of Conduct. A more savvy kid might have realized that he could be charged with S11 Disorderly Conduct, or the ever-useful S58 Other Incidents (also on this level are, for comparison, S21 Homicide, S23 Kidnapping, S34 Tobacco Use and S16 Electronic Pagers. Go figure.). He probably wouldn’t have been surprised to have been beaten by the principal on Monday morning, since Madison County Schools still use corporal punishment.

But he probably wouldn’t have expected to have to worry about  S30, Sexual Offenses.

Kids, please, please, if you want to fight or streak, don’t do it at school or a school event. Do it anywhere but. Why? Because if you get in trouble at school, your principal can call in the law. If you do it elsewhere, the law is not likely to call in your principal.*

This seems like a kind of double jeopardy to me.

Adamek realized he would likely be expelled. Then Tuesday night, Principal Michael Campbell announced on the evening news that the boy “faced legal charges” and that “the incident was much more than a mere prank. ‘This situation was totally different, something not related to that at all.’”

What did that last sentence mean? Now that Campbell has shut up, we’ll never know. It seemed to me that he was trying to make a harmless, victimless crime — if in fact it was any crime at all — into something far more sinister.

The “legal complications”? Campbell mentioned “public lewdness”; another possibility would have been “indecent exposure, the latter of which is tied to Alabama’s sex offender laws.”

Now this is where Adamek’s situation really became dire. If he had beat someone senseless as a 15-year-old, and been judged delinquent, once he reached 18, he could have sought to have his juvenile record sealed. It doesn’t work that way with sexual offender status. In Alabama, the law “requires adult sex offenders to remain in the state sex offender registry for life but makes exceptions for some younger offenders.” Some youthful offenders may then not be on the register for life, but for exactly how long is vague.

And it was possible that Adamek could have faced time in the juvenile detention center. Most  (83%) in Madison County’s in 2008 committed non-violent crimes, by the way. Now, it might not be true, but anyone in America knows what is commonly believed about incarceration of males: rape is widespread, and sex offenders are considered the lowest of the low.

By Thursday Christian Adamek was dead.

To recap: we have a 15-year-old kid who it doesn’t appear was anything like streetwise or vaguely knowledgeable about the [so-called] justice system who runs down the sidelines during a football game either naked or in his boxers or somewhere in between.

His principal Michael Campbell and the administrators at Sparkman do the worst they can in the academic arena: starting expulsion proceedings. Then Campbell goes on TV to make sure that his intentions to pressure the DA’s Office to make the kid’s life a long-lasting legal hell are publicly known.

Some teenagers choose to break the law and commit violent crimes. It is hard to have much sympathy for them if they despair over the consequences. And catastrophically bad things happen to teenagers: serious illness, causing accidents, being the victims of accidents, being the victims of crime. Even for those who are at the wheel when a serious accident occurs, an accident, is after all, an accident.

Christian Adamek fell into a weird category: yes, he acted intentionally. But surely he had no clue what the fall-out would be. He engaged in a juvenile act. He was, after all, a juvenile. He was supposed to have had chances to learn about the world.

Principal Michael Campbell acted intentionally too. The similarities end there. He is an adult. He is an adult who is responsible for the education and safety of his students. He is expected to use good judgment. He is supposed to know a little bit at least about the impulsive behavior of teenagers. He might be expected to understand their ignorance of the legal system, to be able to grasp that a 15 year-old might not make the connection between streaking (or sort of streaking) at a football game and ending up on the Sex Offender Registry (how many adults would?). Surely he’d be expected not to talk to the press about a specific case at his school, knowing fully well that due to social media, Christian’s identity was widely known already and his and the mainstream’s media not naming Christian was an adherence to formality and irrelevant in practice.

I doubt that Campbell and his colleagues committed an actual “crime.” Even if they did, trust me, the Madison County AL DA wouldn’t bother with the case.  No, all Campbell did was act with such abysmally poor judgment that he made of a trivial non-event a matter of life-and-death. Literally.

Why? What could have motivated such idiocy? Well, allow me to speculate a bit here and give you some history on the man. Superintendent Col. Casey Wardynski and the Huntsville Board of Education paid $22,000 to a consultant to find them two principals. Campbell was one; he came from Fairfax, VA, a favorite stomping ground of the Colonel, and was hired to lead Johnson High, a school “labeled as ‘failing’ under state standards” at a salary of $102,596. He arrived in fall 2012 and by April 2013 had found his way to greener (or make that whiter) pastures at Sparkman, failing to raise Johnson from its failing status, and feeling, it appears, no compunction about having wasted the money City of Huntsville taxpayers spent on his recruitment. While I can’t say I blame hime for wanting to get out of the Huntsville CIty Schools, he should have looked into the situation he was getting himself into before accepting the job.

OK, so now he is lord of his new universe, and then this kid streaks a football game. Time to show all the world that there’s a new sheriff in town, a Real Man, a Tough Guy, who won’t let HIS kingdom be besmirched by some juvenile hijinks.

In a just world, Campbell would be fired and banned from ever having a position of authority over any child. If he isn’t responsible, then let him speak for himself. He had enough to say before Christian died.

I doubt he has anything to worry about. Not a thing.

____________

*Case in point and a study in comparative justice: Not far from Sparkman High, when one 15-year-old beat another senseless at his home, the Huntsville City school both attended was indifferent. Even though the perp admitted hitting his victim to a school counselor, that counselor couldn’t even bother returning  calls from the Assistant DA. Nor did his principal.
This same perp posted a picture of himself with his pants below his knees at an open air shopping center on a Saturday afternoon while on probation. The head probationary officer for juveniles in Madison County was indifferent, noting that the terms of his probation did not prohibit dropping his drawers in public, and besides, you see that kind of thing on TV all the time.
And when that perp turned 18, he could petition to have his record sealed.
In other words, if Christian Adamek had stayed home from that football game and instead slapped, head-butted, strangled and banged his girlfriend’s head against the wall multiple times, he would have been a whole lot better off  legally, his academic situation unaffected, and likely he would have been alive today.
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8 thoughts on “About a 15-year-old’s Suicide and a Principal’s Grandstanding

  1. I think my post clearly separates what is known and what is rumor.

    Fact: Michael Campbell did choose to talk on camera to local news for reasons that remain inexplicable. That the TV station and al.com took the video down from the net suggests that they had second thoughts about the wisdom of having reported this in the first place, but from all I have seen, no one has publicly expressed regret.

    Fact: Since the original article by Crystal Bonvillian on Christian’s suicide on al.com, there has been no retraction from Christian’s sister (or anyone else) that her brother was facing expulsion, as reported.

    I continue to believe that expulsion was a punishment out of proportion to the non-violent, victimless offense of streaking. I continue to believe that for Campbell to keep the prospect of criminal charges alive even when the police had a chance to arrest Christian instead of simply releasing him to his parents, which they did (showing, I think, considerably more wisdom than Campbell) was vindictive grandstanding.

    I don’t blame Campbell for Christian’s suicide, but when a man who has so much responsibility for so many kids shows so little judgment, I think he should be called out for it. That I don’t have kids at Sparkman means I can do so without fear of retaliation.

    I commend Christian’s dad for speaking out about his son’s mental health problems and agree that this is an enormously important issue and I will be writing about that soon.

    But not all depressed kids commit suicide, nor do all who have tried in the past and failed do so til they succeed, nor do all who are hospitalized or seek help for suicidal ideation.

    Maybe Sparkman’s administration had no clue that Christian had these issues. (If they did, then they are truly wretched people.) That said, I would have thought that high school admns would have had enough experience with good kids who got in big trouble after doing one stupid thing to be able to tell if the child was belligerent or repentant and remorseful. I would be very surprised if Christian hadn’t seemed very scared during the disciplinary actions by the school,

    If you are a well trained professional working with kids, then you should be able to tell when it is time to back off. You don’t keep kicking someone who is already down.

    And that is how I interpret Campbell’s going on TV with his “public lewdness” and other “legal complications” speech and his suggestively vague “the incident was much more than a mere prank.” Even if Christian hadn’t killed himself, it was still a nasty and ethically questionable thing to do. It would have gone unnoticed in the international press had Christian not died, but it would have been no less an act of very poor judgment.

  2. Get your facts straight. This piece is completely unethical and has many, many holes in the facts. Most of your “facts” are actually simply rumors. You’ve never even visited the school, let alone experienced it. Adamek had depression issues far before this incident. Campbell, and the faculty, had nothing to do with his death.

  3. To Mr. T: I did read somewhere that Christian did it because he had lost a bet or a dare. Again, though, I would argue that what we are seeing is juvenile behavior by a juvenile.I don’t think it is any more likely to have had anything to do with drugs than, say, international espionage or importing ivory from poached elephants. Sorry but speculating on drugs seems out of the ballpark here.Christian was a kid: I expect some planning went into it, but not a whole heck of a lot of thought about how this could impact his entire future, what the worst case scenarios would be if he were caught, and so on. If there were kids who egged him on, and I think this is more likely than not, I don’t see how dragging them into the public arena would help anyone. So why am I so hard on Campbell and his staff? Because they are adults, not high school kids. And when Christian was alive, Campbell spoke to the television journalists. If he expects forgiveness, he should express remorse. Maybe he has to the family. But again, while kids may have brought the so-called streak into the public eye with youtube, he brought to the public the toxicity of making a silly juvenile act into a sex crime. And until he explains why, then I think he deserves the wrath of the public he sought to outrage.

  4. Is there any chance that the boy may have had a bad joke played on him and that encouraged his streaking decision? Are there other students being protected or shielded and that were in on this and because they are smart and good liars that they are not saying anything? I doubt that he made that spur decision to streak at a game. I would guess there was some arm twisting or manipulation by others who might see this as fun entertainment for them. Was the boy proud of what he did and was he bragging about it or was he embarrassed? Was the boy on drugs whether legal or illegal that might have made him an easy target for manipulation? Are there photos or video floating around that are of good quality of the incident where people were prepared and waiting and captured the whole thing. Any principal that sicks the cops and the media on a student deserves to be fired and hung out to dry.

  5. A great unbiased story and providing the FACTs. You did something the media should be doing. Thanks for including Mr. Campbell’s history and how he arrived on the good Colonel’s white horse compliments of the taxpayers of Huntsville. How can anyone say they are looking out for the child and then prosecute the child in the media. My prayers go to this child’s family.I hope the Sparkman Community send Mr. Campbell packing and he can take the Colonel with him.

  6. That principal acted malicously without a care or concern for his student. He should be judged for his actions of bullying an inocent silly 15 year olds antics, that lead to the 15 year olds suicide.

    Bullying is against the law is it not, everywhere?

  7. Doing the comparative analysis with other crimes was a nice piece of work. I think many times people lose context of situational events. I will be very interested to see if, Under Alabama law, the Principal can be prosecuted under some cyberbullying statute, since he threatened the child from a position of power using various electronic media. I also hope to see a civil suit pushed on this against the principal and the school district, based on what the police did or did not do, and where the event occurred, and what evidence is actually available.

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