Finally, Someone Acts Like An Adult: District Attorney Drops Charges Against Bullied Teen Who Recorded His Tormentors

from the and-to-think,-this-all-could-have-been-prevented dept

South Fayette School in Pennsylvania, along with a complicit criminal justice system, recently made headlines with its groundbreaking anti-bullying program, which apparently deters bullying by punishing bullied students.

Here’s a short recap:

A bullied student used an iPad to make an audio recording of other students abusing him. He brought this to school administration who a) called in a police officer (after being advised by its legal team that this might be a violation of the state’s wiretapping law) and b) deleted the recording.

The police officer, unable to actually bring a felony charge against the minor, settled for disorderly conduct. This charge brought him before a judge, who first stated her firm belief in the school’s inability to do wrong before finding him guilty.

Throughout the entire debacle, not a single person involved even considered the possibility that the student had committed no crime or the fact that he had followed all of the school’s prescribed steps for reporting bullying incidents. Instead, the desire to punish someone was obliged every step of the way.

Finally, someone within the justice system has chosen to act like an adult, rather than a bunch of clique-y, vindictive children.

Stanfield (the student) had announced that he and his attorney would file an appeal to that ruling but his fight may already be coming to an end. Today, Benswann.com has been told by Stanfield’s attorney that the District Attorney will allow the appeal to go forward but will no longer pursue this case.

More specifically, both the wiretapping charge (which was apparently still brought despite the involved officer’s statement otherwise) and the disorderly conduct charge (which the judge found the student guilty of) were dropped.

A wiretapping charge against a South Fayette High School student who recorded two classmates bullying him has been dropped by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office.

Mike Manko, a spokesman for District Attorney Stephen Zappala, said Judge Robert Gallo signed an order Thursday to withdraw the citation against 15-year-old Christian Stanfield.

“No one in our office who is authorized to give advice on wiretap issues or school conduct issues was ever contacted in this matter. We have made multiple attempts to contact the officer who wrote the citation and (the) results have been unsuccessful,” Manko said in a written statement. “We do not believe this behavior rises to the level of a citation.”

Odd that a police officer wouldn’t talk to a district attorney. Unless, of course, a little bit of hindsight made him realize his every move fell between vindictive and buffoonish. Lt. Murka, who apparently considered both wiretapping and disorderly conduct to be appropriate “remedies” for a bullied student recording his tormentors, seems to have recused himself from the public eye. Manko, speaking for the DA, hits the heart of the issue — one simple sentence that any of those involved could have deployed to call an end to this ridiculous situation before it ended up in front of a judge: “We do not believe this behavior rises to the level of a citation.”

The school has now gone on record to declare it’s everyone else who’s wrong:

The South Fayette Township School District wishes to address recent reports in the local and national media concerning a student of the South Fayette Township School District. It is to be noted that certain information being disseminated by the media is inaccurate and/or incomplete.

Rather than clear up what exactly was “inaccurate and/or incomplete” about the reporting, it instead has chosen to hide behind “confidentiality.”

The School District is legally precluded from commenting specifically in regard to these reports as the issue involves a confidential student matter.

Considering the story has been all over the news, it seems a bit weak to claim the matter is still “confidential.” It would seem it could comment on any of the specifics already in the public domain. The story has gone nationwide, so it’s disingenuous to pretend it’s still a “confidential” matter.

While it’s nice that the DA has dropped the charges and allowed the student to proceed through school without criminal charges hanging over his head, one wonders if this same outcome would have forthcoming without the attendant public outcry. Any adult can start acting like one with enough public shaming. But the application of a little common sense would have averted this incident completely.

A bit more troubling is one of the suggestions that escaped the lips of a local politician who showed up to the teen’s “not a criminal” celebration.

State lawmaker Jesse White joined the rally, telling Stanfield he wants to name a law after him. He said it would close the loophole in the wiretapping law and allow victims of bullying to record it as proof for police and school officials.

His opportunistic heart’s in the right place, but naming laws after people often indicates the new law is a bad one. This isn’t an issue where a new law will fix things. This is an issue where no one in this chain of events showing the courage (and common sense) to stand up and ask why they were punishing a bullied kid for recording bullies.

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Comments on “Finally, Someone Acts Like An Adult: District Attorney Drops Charges Against Bullied Teen Who Recorded His Tormentors”

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68 Comments
Quiet Lurcker says:

Re: Back It UP!

A civil suit is a very small step in the right direction; a slightly better idea would be for the entire staff of the district, from the newest hire to the head of the board of education in that district, the DA, the cop, the judge, everyone involved even indirectly to give up their salaries for six months – a pointed lesson that someone somewhere did something wrong. That might cause the people in charge to think twice before doing something this stupid again, for fear their colleagues would not approve.

And while we’re at it, cancel extra-curricular activities at all levels until the entire staff of the district demonstrate proficiency in critical thinking.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ridiculous, doesn’t even begin to describe this whole situation. South Fayette High School appears to be a public school, which means he recorded audio on public property.

Doesn’t wiretapping laws apply to telephone conversations? I guess anyone who records high school football games, is an alleged felon according to the so-called ‘judge’ in Fayette county.

After all, modern day ‘justice’ systems aren’t really about dealing ‘justice’. They’re about dealing out convictions. Nothing more.

In my local county, our court has over a 98% conviction rate. It doesn’t matter if the original charges brought against someone sticks or not.

Around here, and I’m sure it’s the same all over America, the Prosecutor will keep lowering the charges if you’re falsely accused of a felony. They’ll even lower it to a misdemeanor, but you’re not walking out of the court house scott-free without being convicted of something.

Dreddsnik says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Doesn’t wiretapping laws apply to telephone conversations?”

In Illinois, the act of recording a public conversation without the knowledge and consent of those recorded violates ‘wiretapping’ laws here. My theory is that too many politicians were being caught lying on tape and so the law was created to protect them from their own words.

Just a theory.

aerilus says:

Re: Re:

most states have wiretapping laws where only one party’s consent is needed to record the conversation. so the only one who can’t record is the one in the conversation. if this isn’t the case in this state, instead of making a new law they should be switching to a system that most of the rest of the country is already on.

Tom Billings (profile) says:

Re: The Bullies, versus "the Recorder"

Before you ask that, remember that bullies often bully specifically because they know the student will get no backup from the school administration. This is especially the case if the bullied student was born on high functioning end of the Autistic Spectrum. As I heard many times between 7th grade and Senior Year, …”you’ve just got to learn how to get along” is the most such a student can get out of any administrator. Add to this, …were the bullies prominent members of one of the schools jock teams?

Recording anyone in favor, doing something that would get them in trouble if the administrator cannot just dismiss it with the above reply to the bullied child sparks particular outrage in many police today. They don’t like being recorded themselves when bullying, and want to establish that it is outside social norms. So, if neither the administrator or the police liked what the bullied child was doing, it becomes far more clear why we got the reaction seen in this case. Praise to the young man for standing up to them!

PopeRatzo (profile) says:

dumb statement

but naming laws after people often indicates the new law is a bad one

That’s a dumb statement. There may have been dumb laws that were named after someone, but they’re being named for someone didn’t “indicate” anything.

There are also instances of good laws named after people. It’s a way of getting public support for legislation, nothing more.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: dumb statement

The Clinton law against Flunitrazepam (roofies) is really retarded when it’s just another anxiety/insomnia medication in the class of benzodiazepines, which there is already a huge variety of available, some even more amnesic in properties than Rohypnol. It was named after some women who got date-raped if I remember. That was retarded, I have more examples in mind but i’d need to research and i’m not feeling too well (damn, I hate spring, all that melting snow is releasing bacteria everywhere).

G Thompson (profile) says:

I might be cynical here though wouldn’t the DA stating they will not pursue the case (ie: Not defend the appeal) be an easy CYA for the DA’s office & the state so they don’t get slapped down hard by the appelate courts and get a “with prejudice” loss too.

Any US attorneys wanna chime in with whether or not a with prejudice can be obtained if the DA doesn’t make a showing?

Also the charge of disorderly conduct I would surmise cannot technically be dropped (only quashed maybe) since the defendant has already been found guilty of it by a lower court and has not gone to a higher court yet on appeal. Or does your sentencing/charge system work totally different than anywhere else?

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

as the article mentions, it is only because it became widely known that any positive result came about; what about the, what? -dozen?, hundred? thousand?- other similar situations which we don’t hear about, or get successfully squashed with no one squawking ? ? ?
it is the WHOLE SYSTEM which is infected/infested by this false ‘morality’ and draconian punishment for non-crimes…
AND the mechanisms to oversee and correct these institutions has been broken or coopted; there is no recourse…

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

School teaches valuable life lesson to someone who is ‘different’. Do not expect those in power to have any concern if your rights are being abused if they feel it might reflect poorly on them. They will instead find a way to make sure that they and punish you for daring to bring to light their failings.

Bullies protecting Bullies.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They are protecting their “level of bullying at this school” stats.

The kid probably didn’t score too good on tests either. So not only was he trying to attack the schools “level of bullying at this school” stats, he also was attacking the schools “test result” stats.

Not justifying it. They are scumbags for being like that. They truly are the selfish scum of the earth.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The “selfish scum of the earth” are those who put such policies in place. The school administration is given little latitude and apparently lacks fortitude required to do anything about it. Meanwhile, the teachers are blamed for most of what occurs even though they have little to no choice short of quitting. It’s all part of the grand plan to destroy public education and replace it with corporate indoctrination.

Anonymous Coward says:

DA – wants convictions.
Government prosecution of criminal offenses. Will use tactics like overcharging with unrelated and mostly ridiculous charges to acquire a guilty verdict via a “plea deal”. Conviction rate is how he is judged.

Police Officer – wants criminals.
Is not a law specialist. Relies on other Government parties to tell him what to do. Getting the “criminal” is all he is interested in. Can use questionable tactics to get what he wants. His word will always be held as more important because he said it. Arrest rate is how he is judged.

School “board” – wants an APPEARING to be, perfect school.
No bullying exists at the school = “better school” = more funds = higher wages for those up top. Bullying is a problem for the school IF people find out that there is a bullying problem. In the same way that pupils who don’t pass a test are a problem IF people find out. Education is irrelevant, only test results are relevant to them.
“Performance rate” in multiple(too many) areas is how they are judged.

They all use authoritarian methods to subjugate people to get what they want. The system more or less asks for it.
The DA can charge someone with apparently anything.
The cop can arrest a person for apparently anything using only his word.
The school can “discipline” a student for apparently anything.

I would check to see what else the school was doing. How many “low test scoring” pupils have been thrown out etc… ?
Not that you could do anything about it. The system sucks.

Spaceman Spiff (profile) says:

Sue, Sue, Sue

I love Sue, but this is the other kind. I hope this kid and his family sues the school, school district, the officer involved, the police department, the city, and the judge who found him “guilty”, and gets a gazillion $$ in compensation for their total stupidity! The citizens of the town deserve the cost because they either elected or hired the “officials” in question.

trollificus (profile) says:

He must have been asking for it.

I mean, look at this crap.

Other students at the school don’t like him, bully him.

School administrators see the kid, and proof of bullying…and THEY bully him and call the cops on him!

Cop sees him, says “You must be guilty of something…one from column A, one from column B.” and hauls him off.

Judge sees him, says “You’re guilty of whatever they charged you with. Case closed.”

Man, at every step of the way this poor kid elicits a real negative response-not just from the other kids, but from adults-in their PROFESSIONAL roles! The unanimity of negative response to this kid is mind-boggling. He should be studied. Maybe he emits some kind of pheremonal scent opposite that of babies or something. Alternatively, there’s more to the story that hasn’t come out. I’d suspect that, rather than the existence of some hitherto undiscovered “He Hate Me” gene.

Seriously though, the politicians’ solution is alarming. It was a recording of public activity, in public-how is freaking “wiretap law” even invoked?? What “loophole” is he talking about? Sounds like a bad law we are to be grateful to politicians for carving little exceptions out of. Ugh.

Lastly, even the very best-reported “media narratives” are incomplete and unnuanced (somewhere in the range of, ooh…100% of the time). If a law needs to gain public support through appeal to the media narrative surrounding a well-known case rather than its merits…it’s probably a bad law. So Tim’s statement is not stupid at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: He must have been asking for it.

If we’re gonna be silly…remember that episode of the Simpsons (that was during the last good seasons, 12-13..so 10 years ago) where Lisa finds out that victims of bullying emit some sort of fear chemical in their sweat which attracts negative attention/beatings etc.

http://img4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20130224181311/simpsons/images/b/b4/Francine_Attacks_Lisa.JPG

Yeah that’s the one. If only it was so simple.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: He must have been asking for it.

Actually, you do produce a “fear chemical” when you’re scared. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090306142536.htm

However, it’s body language and general behavior/demeanor that draw the bullies in. Basically, expecting to be bullied creates a self-fulfilling prophesy. I discovered this as a before-and-after when I learned to stand up for myself instead of just taking it on the chin and hoping it would go away or trying to ingratiate myself with bullies (neither of which ever worked).

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Send him to concealed carry class then SYG laws apply

Whut? This is what “overkill” means. It’s out of proportion, buddy.

Sheesh! Why do people think violence is a handy one-size-fits-all solution to everything? Bear in mind that bullies can get guns, too.

Enhanced bullying for the purposes of standing one’s ground, here we come! Because gun ownership is a human right, or something.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Indeed, this smart little guy who went to the same high school as me had problems not with bullies at school (they somehow start dropping off/going to tech schools that only require a grade 10/11 to enter) in his neighbourhood, where, excuse the word, but they’re a reality, wiggers started to fuck with him in the streets as he was walking to a bus stop. 5 on 1. What they didn’t know was that he was a Taekwondo Black Belt, he got rid of all 5 in a flash, would be hard to believe he could do that when you looked at him, but yeah, I encourage every kid out there that has bullying problems to take martial arts classes. Not only does it strengthen you physically, but also mentally where ignoring (non-physical) bullying becomes a very easy thing, resorting to violence (self-defense) is only a “no other choice” situation.

Letemdangle (profile) says:

I remember complaining as a child about getting bullied. The teachers didn’t care then and they don’t now. The bullied complain and they are usually the least liked by staff and students. So the teachers who still carry around the “I want to be popular” side with the more popular kids who are usually the ones doing the bullying.

Eric Rasmusen says:

Re: I wonder

That’s a very good question. I’d like to know if the district attorney was contacted earlier and refused to intervene on behalf of the bullied child.

The comments in this thread are good. I don’t know that a civil suit would do any good (what would the damages be?), but the district attorney should be made to answer the question of why he won’t prosecute the principal for destroying evidence.

Ben says:

Tampering?

One has to wonder how they thought a wiretapping charge would stand when there was no evidence because they deleted it. And if they then got on the stand to swear under threat of perjury that there had been an illegal recording made, wouldn’t they then be admitting to tampering with evidence in a criminal investigation?

I kind of wish they would push the case forward just so they can make the cop and principal admit in court that they tampered with evidence.

TMLutas (profile) says:

The recording was legal

Here’s the kicker, the recording was entirely legal in the state of Pennsylvania. I actually looked up the law and blogged about it here:
http://flit-tm.blogspot.com/2014/04/dont-skip-looking-up-law.html

Title 18 Section 5704 Subsection 17

Any victim, witness or private detective licensed under the act of August 21, 1953 (P.L.1273, No.361), known as The Private Detective Act of 1953, to intercept the contents of any wire, electronic or oral communication, if that person is under a reasonable suspicion that the intercepted party is committing, about to commit or has committed a crime of violence and there is reason to believe that evidence of the crime of violence may be obtained from the interception.

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