Bullied Student Records Bullies, Gets Threatened With Felony Charges For Violating Wiretapping Law

from the hammers-all-the-way-down dept

Here comes another story highlighting the danger of schools “outsourcing” their disciplinary problems to law enforcement. As we’ve stated before, this does nothing more than turn routine misconduct into criminal behavior, which is a great way to derail a student’s future.

A Pennsylvania teen, who claimed to have been bullied constantly (and ignored by school administration), made an audio recording of his tormentors using a school-supplied iPad. He brought this to the school’s attention, which duly responded by calling the cops… to have him arrested for violating Pennsylvania’s wiretapping law. (h/t to Techdirt reader btr1701)

[The student’s mother, Shea] Love says that upon fielding her complaint, Principal Scott Milburn called South Fayette Township police Lieutenant Robert Kurta to the school to interrogate her son in the presence of Associate Principal Aaron Skrbin and Dean of Students Joseph Silhanek. The defendant testified before Judge McGraw-Desmet that he was forced to play the audio for the group and then delete it. Love says by the time she arrived at the school, her son was surrounded by school officials and the police officer and was visibly distraught. She says Milburn defended the teacher’s response to the classroom disturbance.

The administration, rather than consider targeting the recorded bullies, instead called the cops believing (on advice from district lawyers, no less) that they had a felon in their office.

Kurta testified before the magistrate that Milburn requested his presence at the school on February 12 at 8:20 a.m. The officer said, “He believed he had a wiretapping incident.” Upon his arrival, Kurta said Milburn advised him that Silhanek fielded a call that morning from Love notifying him “that she planted a recording device in her son’s backpack to record the activities in one of his classes.” According to Kurta’s testimony, after Milburn consulted with the school district’s attorney, he advised reporting the incident to the police and treating it as a crime.

As Scott Greenfield points out, calling a cop in to handle a school disciplinary problem doesn’t leave the officer with many choices.

At that moment, it was certainly within Lt. Kurta’s ability to pull the principal aside and tell him, “hey, you scared the crap out of the kid, which should do the job. You realize that this isn’t a crime of any sort, and so I’m just going to back away slowly, not embarrass you for bringing me here to waste my time, and you can go back to doing whatever it is you do in this big building. Have a nice day.”

That’s one option. But as these things go, that’s rarely, if ever, the option chosen. The officer, having been summoned, needed to find something to charge the bullied student with.

Kurta said, “After I left the school, I wasn’t sure what charge to file so I contacted the district attorney’s office. This would fall under a wiretapping violation, which is a felony.” He later answered as to why he thought the disorderly conduct charge applied to this case by saying, “Because his (the student’s) actions — he engaged in actions which served no legitimate purpose.” He then read the statute as, “Creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by acts which serve no legitimate purpose.”

Because capturing evidence of bullying “serves no legitimate purpose,” apparently.

As Greenfield puts it, the officer was a hammer. Therefore, the bullied student must be a nail. This brought the student in front of yet another authority who could finally apply some common sense to the situation — the magistrate judge. But that was not to be. The judge dragged in her own faith in the malfunctioning system as justification for nailing the student for disorderly conduct. In fact, Judge Maureen McGraw made her statement in defense of the school before the student could make his statement.

“Normally, if there is — I certainly have a big problem with any kind of bullying at school. But normally, you know, I would expect a parent would let the school know about it, because it’s not tolerated. I know that, and that you guys [school administrators] would handle that, you know […] Because it’s not tolerated, but you need to go through — let the school handle it. And I know from experience with South Fayette School that, you know, it always is. And if there is a problem and it continues, then it is usually brought in front of me.”

Greenfield again, pointing out just how wrong the judge’s statement is:

While this may not be a unique reaction, whether with school officials or police, it is decidedly flagrant. Where a judge’s function is so fundamentally undermined from the outset, that an accuser is so virtuous that it cannot be wrong, the prejudice can neither be ignored nor excused. The die was cast by dint of the school having “brought [the student] in front of” the judge.

The last part of the “unholy trinity” was the final hammer, coming down on the “nail” placed in front of it by school administrators (who can do no wrong) and a police officer (who is beyond fault). Guilty as charged.

The judge’s statement is particularly egregious, considering the situation in front of her. First off, the judge’s faith in the school’s ability to combat bullying is obviously misplaced. She saw no fault in her reasoning and, using that as her platform for the rest of her statement, she went on to act on her own information and beliefs.

But further than appealing to her own authority, the judge stated how these things should be handled, apparently completely unaware (or unwilling to recognize) that following the prescribed steps is what resulted in a bullied child standing in front of her, facing a BS “disorderly conduct” charge.

The judge said that bullying victims should first bring the problem to their parents — which this student did. Next, she says the parents should let the school administrators know — which she did. Finally, she says, let the school handle it — which it did. And now, the student faces her — having followed all the proper steps — charged with disorderly conduct. And yet, despite this, she asserts that the system works and, indeed, has always worked in regards to this particular school. Logical fallacy piled on top of logical fallacy until a bullied kid is charged with a crime while his recorded tormentors remain unpunished.

The judge refused to believe that any one of these esteemed administrators could have screwed up, failing to believe that they, too, are human and as prone to failure as anyone else. If they’ve never screwed up in the past, all future misdeeds are forgiven (and forgotten) in advance. This is the sort of rationale that should never be deployed by a supposedly impartial overseer like a judge, because it’s just as wrong as assuming every authority figure involved here is an irredeemable monster.

[P]eople are not so one-dimensional that they are horrible in every instance, to every person, under every circumstances. The cop who beats a man one day may have saved a kitten in a tree the day before.

Maybe the school has had an admirable track record on curtailing bullying. Maybe Officer Kurta doesn’t always seek to find something to charge a person with when put in this position. But everyone here came together to make a string of regrettable decisions that led to a bullied student being punished, rather than the aggressors. Maybe the future holds better outcomes, but for right now, everyone involved had a chance to stop this from reaching this illogical conclusion, but no one — from the administrators to their legal team to local law enforcement to the presiding judge — was interested in reining this in. In the end, it looks as though an innate desire to punish someone was satisfied every step of the way.

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Comments on “Bullied Student Records Bullies, Gets Threatened With Felony Charges For Violating Wiretapping Law”

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88 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Wait....

The evidence is now deleted. Time to turn this case around and make it into a harassment suit against the school and police for false imprisonment.

If the Evidence is recovered, then we change the case to a Tampering with evidence, and conspiracy against all the teachers, school officials and the police involved!!!!

I hope a big time lawyer takes this case pro-bono and mops the ballsloping floor with these bastards!

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: Wait....

Indeed. You don’t force the, ahem, ‘perp’ to delete the evidence of his crime. (that said evidence was also evidence of ANOTHER actual crime we’ll just leave out for the moment)

That is quite clearly destruction of evidence. Worse, if you make him delete it and THEN charge him, you’ve violated due process AND made it likely the ‘perp’ doesn’t get charged since there’s no evidence…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Wait....

Indeed, I don’t see how they have a case against the kid after destroying the evidence.

If there’s any evidence of a crime that’s prosecutable in all this it’s the school for destroying evidence of a ‘crime’. And that would be poetic justice for them to get charged for destroying evidence.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Any wonder they they started shooting schools up? Imagine the connections that can be made to Columbine for instance. Everyone recognizes bullying without much effort. But if a bullied person gets no justice… we risk them snapping in the worst possible ways.

I would never remove a person from the responsibility of their actions… but I do not have a problem heaping additional responsibility upon those whom “take charge” of our children (by threat of law no less) and then subsequently fail in spectacular ways in keeping them safe or preparing them for life.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

i can’t remember if i read the article here or elsewhere, but do you know which school has NOT installed metal detectors and other police state lockdown shit ?
the good folks of columbine…

yes, that is correct: THE school with THE most/’best’ reason to install all that shit (which doesn’t work and will only MAKE more kids/others go postal, rather than stop them), had both the good sense, AND realization that CRIMINALIZING EVERY student with that treatment was WORSE than the worst outcome…

but NO ONE ELSE learned that lesson…
idiots…

kelleth says:

Re: Re: Re:

And suicide don’t forget suicide. Glad I didn’t go any of those routes.

This is why I found no way out of bullying. They essentially put you in a Kobayashi Maru scenario, You can’t win. No matter what you do you can’t win, If you do nothing they win, If you fight back you’re the bad guy, and they win. If you kill yourself they pretty much ignore you ever existed and move on to their next victim. This world’s global society is fundamentally fucked up.

Anonymous Coward says:

so what are the parents of the bullied child going to do now? make him stay home for wasting their time? it seems as if the parents are the only ones who haven’t punished the boy (taking the pee now). isn’t there someone on techdirt who could get a bit more sense out of all those involved in punishing the only one who was being threatened, by appealing and going back to court? what were those handing out the punishments worried about? was it the mayor’s kid or something ? maybe a school donator?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Like swimming through sewage

Reading that… every single on of those people other than the victim is rotten all the way through.

First you’ve got the school administrators, who seem to believe the best way to have a ‘bully-free school’ is by ignoring any evidence that there even are bullies, and punishing anyone who dares to show how wrong they are.

Then you’ve got that moronic, over-trained idiot of an officer, so desperate to find something, anything to charge the victim with that they’re even calling up the DA to find something, while also not giving a damn about the actual victim here.

I’d throw equal blame on the DA, but that’s almost like blaming a fish for breathing water. Their entire job is to throw the book at people and get convictions, and as story after story has made clear, they don’t particularly care who the target is, as long as they can get that extra feather for their cap.

And finally, the judge… where to even start with that one… it’s pretty obvious the judge had already made up their mind before the defense had even said a word, simply by the fact that they were there in court.

After all, they’re the defendant, that automatically means they’re guilty, right? Innocent people would never find themselves in that position! /s

The judge had quite obviously entered the court-room with massive blinders on, willing only to see the evidence they wanted to see, seeing the school as some perfect paragon of justice that could never screw up(or be so incompetent or corrupt) so badly that they threw a victim of bullying into the meatgrinder rather than go after the actual bullies.

This was a case where the judge recusing themselves from the case was not only a good idea, but pretty much required for any semblance of ‘justice’ to ever make it into the ruling, as the judge was obviously biased towards one of the parties from the start.

I can only hope this travesty of justice gets appealed, hopefully to a judge not so biased or blind, and those involved named and shamed for their disgusting actions.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Like swimming through sewage

That One Guy wrote:

Reading that… every single on of those people other than the victim is rotten all the way through.

Well…. the kid’s mom sounds OK. (Yes, I know that’s not what you meant.)
They’re appealing the conviction and planning a civil suit against the school district. Good. Or, at least, a good start.

They seriously need to look at removing this judge from the bench. In this parade of horrible authority figures, a judge who makes rulings on the basis of “Well, if they’re in court, they must have done something” really manages to stand out. (We’re used to idiotic behavior from principals, after all.)

Digger says:

Re: Re: Like swimming through sewage

They also need to file criminal charges against the School / Police officer.

False imprisonment.
Falsifying official police records – what the kid did didn’t violate any laws, wiretap or other as it was a public school.

False testimony – if they told the judge that he broke the wiretapping law, then they perjured themselves as that didn’t happen.

Also need to get the judge removed from the bench as he’s a fucking retard if he doesn’t know that recording audio in a public place doesn’t break any laws as the hundreds of cases nationwide have proven.

Judge should probably get nailed for false imprisonment as well.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Like swimming through sewage

‘he’ was a ‘she’, but your point still obtains…

thing is, she is a PERFECT exemplar of the type of judge Empire wants (silly wabbit, you think we get judges the 99% want/need ?), as far as a mindless, authoritarian automaton who will -you know, ever so reluctantly- send babies to the gas chambers, if that is what Empire tells her to do…

oh yes, kampers, its going to be a bumpy ride…

Pragmatic says:

Re: Like swimming through sewage

In America, a trial is intended only to demonstrate how the offender?s guilt was determined. Thus the purpose of the trial is not to establish facts ? these are already known, and cannot be disputed ? but to provide an educational experience for the populace, so trials are broadcast throughout America.

It is important to understand that, the American mind, the needs of the state outweigh the needs of the individual. The Americans believe that only a strong state can provide the necessary structure, security, and stability needed to safeguard the populace. It is a common assertion that ?the survival of state is the survival of the people.?

A good trial demonstrates that the American state is not only always right, but is strong enough to capture and punish all offenders.

Some Americans will admit that under their system it is possible an innocent person may be punished, but they maintain that this is of little consequence. Confessing ? even to a crime one did not commit ? is seen as a last act of service to the state. The innocent American who is brought to trial recognizes this, and as a result confessions are often forthcoming.

With apologies to the Star Trek franchise and fans of Deep Space 9.

BeeAitch (profile) says:

Re: It's like the judge is just going through the motions.

This quote in particular bothered me:

?Normally, if there is ? I certainly have a big problem with any kind of bullying at school. But normally, you know, I would expect a parent would let the school know about it, because it?s not tolerated. I know that, and that you guys [school administrators] would handle that, you know […] Because it?s not tolerated, but you need to go through ? let the school handle it. And I know from experience with South Fayette School that, you know, it always is. And if there is a problem and it continues, then it is usually brought in front of me.?

Doesn’t sound like a judge to me. Sounds like a politician.

Oh wait, NVM…

Digger says:

Time for a federal investigation

The entire faculty of the school, the school board, the police officer, their Attorney General and the Judge should all be remanded to Ft. Levenworth penitentiary where they can sit and rot for the rest of their natural lives.

The child can be set free, given a cool 10 million from the school district and city for the abuse suffered by these asshats.

Dennis F. Heffernan (profile) says:

Re: Criminal record

According to the article the kid is 15; unless they’ve compounded this comedy of errors by several orders of magnitude by charging him as an adult any record of this will be a juvenile record, which is sealed. Even assuming it doesn’t get expunged he should be able to leave it behind him.

Not that he should have to, of course. Every authority figure in this process needs a beating.

compgeek (profile) says:

i hate to say it but...

at the risk of sounding insensitive to the unfortunate victims of the following: THIS IS WHY WE HAVE SCHOOL SHOOTINGS!
because bullied kids feel they can’t go to those in “authority” about this kind of thing because this crap happens. it’s not new either.
13 years ago i was put in a juvenile detention center for a month THEN sent to therapy (basically attempts to brainwash me into thinking i have no right to defend my life and that thinking otherwise is crazy) and a school for “troubled children” because a longtime bully of mine (who i had ignored/reported to teachers and even police) with four of his friends to help deliberately tried to stab me to death, and i defended myself by wrestling his knife from him (got a few big scars from that) and stabbing him in the balls. the rest is history. never was in actual trouble (unless you count detentions for “bothering” teachers about him) before that. the bully got a pat on the back.

this is common. much more so than most will admit. it will not change unless EVERY VICTIM of it stands up and fights it legally with class action lawsuits and force the dept of education to either fix the problem or spend a lot of money they can’t afford in court.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: More Puritanical Justice

From a practical standpoint it may be ‘how do you prove bullying’ and the ramifications of trying to collect that evidence. If enough oversight (read cameras) takes place on school grounds, then the bullying will move off school grounds where collecting that proof is much more difficult.

Then there is the idea of getting such a policy to spread. This would take work. No child left behind except those who violate our puritanical zero tolerance of anything we disagree with, takes less.

Geno0wl (profile) says:

Why do several people claim this somehow will lead to school shootings?
Everybody works differently(hell the Columbine shooters were described AS bullies, not the bullied party).
If any of this shows tendency towards school shootings it comes from the negligence of the teachers/principals.
You always hear about these kids and “we had no idea of any problems”. Well obviously they DON’T have any idea about their students if this level of bullying happens and they apparently know nothing about it.
Ultimately the buck is on those people for royally screwing this up, but let “us” accept some responsibility for instituting the zero tolerance/out for blood process into schools across the country in the first place.
This is yet another in a countless sea of “zero tolerance = zero intelligence”

Anonymous Coward says:

Where’s the half decent lawyer.

The police generally aren’t allowed to interrogate a minor without a parent present (this is one of those things were age makes a difference, i can’t imagine why, either you’re an adult or not). This includes being present when questions are asked by a principle in the presence of lawenforcement.
“the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that a child’s confession will be suppressed if he waived his rights to an attorney and to remain silent without first having the opportunity to consult with an interested and informed parent, adult, or counsel (Commonwealth v. Markle 380 A2d, 346, (1977) Commonwealth v. Smith A2d 797 (1977)).”

Meaning, they don’t have jack, because they deleted the audio recording.

Anonymous Coward says:

Deleting the audio should result in an automatic dismissal of the charges. That’s the primary piece of evidence, and it was deliberately destroyed by the authorities pushing to convict him.

And honestly, those who made him delete it should be charged with destruction of evidence. If you’re bringing in the police then you obviously do think there’s a crime somewhere. So you have an obligation to not destroy the evidence of that crime. And this applies whether or not you think the kid committed a crime. He was found guilty of disorderly conduct by a judge who did not have access to the audio because it was intentionally deleted. That’s criminal behavior.

CanadianByChoice says:

A Page from the Feds

They’ve leared from the best (DOJ, NSA, CIA, FBI) – when someone shows that you failed at your job, do the following:
(1) deny the alligation that you failed
(2) get custody of the evidance and destroy it
(3) prosecute (the “messenger” or victom) to the fullest extent of the law, plus see how much farther you can twist the law to make it even worse
What this will do is teach the victom that he cannot rely on “authority” for protection.

AC says:

Bullies?

So who are the bullies in this case, who are their parents, do they have connections to the police or the judge or the principal? Are they the rich kids in town and everyone knows it so they don’t want to piss off daddy who may be rich? Could that also be why this child was found guilty of wiretap laws cause daddys little bastard is a bully, but daddy controls the town?

Adam says:

@#61: Not if you oppose the political establishment. We home school in a New England state and are FORCED to pay $5,000 a year to the government schools which provide us zero benefit. Besides, this story is from Pennsylvania, hardly a refuge of leftists. The problem is that it only takes a critical mass of liberal voters to turn the state into a sewer.

jibber jabber says:

evidence

Yeah, um, they deleted the evidence. The only evidence of wiretap, except the child’s comments, I suppose. Surely there’s a PA law that says a school administrator has a duty or requirement to report the bullying crimes to the police? Plus, wiretap generally means intercepting electronic communications. It doesn’t usually mean recording your own in-person conversations, esp. where you are gathering evidence of a crime against you. Where’s that wire, where’s that tap, bi*&^? Is the Magistrate even a lawyer?

Sam says:

Thanks for reporting this. This is my kids’ school and while in many ways an exemplary school, good test scores, a great tech program, wonderful sports teams and award winning band, something for pretty much everyone, my daugther expereinced bullying with little being done about it and very little help for her mild disability. The middle school speech therapist absolutely denied she needed therapy when it was obvious to everyone, including her teachers, that she did. The principal, now retired, backed her up. She had never spoken to my daughter. My son got a Saturday detention from this same principal, in this story, because I didn’t send in an excuse. The only thing he did wrong was be sick. The principal insisted that it was in the school handbook and it wasn’t but he was backed up by the superintendent. I was sickened by this story. Nothing happened to the bullies. BTW, when I had another son who was autistic, in a different high school, and was being bullied, my advice to him was to use his phone to record the bullies. This is what people do thousands of times a day. How is this illegal? Even taking pictures up women’s skirts is apparently legal. And, shouldn’t the bullies be charged with disorderly conduct and the administrators be charged with obstruction of justice?

billy says:

Milburn

You are educated beyond your intelligence level; you piece of excrement trying to be a hero for the pc police; you have just reduced your level of respect to absolute zero.I taught for 30 years and always found out that principals were from low level colleges and got the job because of the “good ol’ boy” network, had to read a book to get an answer and be spoon fed. You are a scum bag bully.

Tabby says:

hold up...

Bully the bullied for trying to catch his prior bullies in the act. How is it a violation when he knew it was being recorded? Only one party needs to know, right?
Aside from that, if the recording was the evidence of disorderly conduct, how could he be charged without the recording?

Either way, I’d be flipping out. Calling an attorney for counsel on “intentional infliction of emotional distres” maybe even the states version of neglect, by failure to protect a child from harm, harsh punishment/punishing the victim, unfair treatment in disciplinary cases, etc. Screw it, put a violation of whistleblower protection laws on it.
A bored lawyer or one with kids could have a field day with it.

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