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Student Records Kids Who Bully Him, Then Gets Threatened With Wiretapping Charge 798

Posted by Soulskill
from the it-takes-real-effort-to-be-this-wrong dept.
An anonymous reader tips news of an incident in a Pennsylvania high school in which a student, Christian Stanfield, was being bullied on a regular basis. He used a tablet to make an audio recording of the bullies for the purpose of showing his mother how bad it was. She was shocked, and she called school officials to tell them what was going on. The officials brought in a police lieutenant — but not to deal with the bullies. Instead, the officer interrogated Stanfield and made him delete the recording. The officer then threatened to charge him with felony wiretapping. The charges were later reduced to disorderly conduct, and Stanfield was forced to testify before a magistrate, who found him guilty. Stanfield's mother said, "Christian's willingness to advocate in a non-violent manner should be championed as a turning point. If Mr. Milburn and the South Fayette school district really want to do the right thing, they would recognized that their zero-tolerance policies and overemphasis on academics and athletics have practically eliminated social and emotional functioning from school culture."

Update: 04/17 04:36 GMT by T : The attention this case has gotten may have something to do with the later-announced decision by the Allegheny County District Attorney's office to withdraw the charges against Stanfield.
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Student Records Kids Who Bully Him, Then Gets Threatened With Wiretapping Charge

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  • All-party state (Score:5, Informative)

    by king neckbeard (1801738) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @08:24AM (#46765963)
    The probably is Pennsylvania is an all-party state, where most states only require the consent of one party to record.
  • Legal Analysis (Score:5, Informative)

    by What'sInAName (115383) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @08:25AM (#46765975) Homepage Journal

    Here's an interesting article that looks at the legal aspects of this case:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/... [washingtonpost.com]

    tl;dr version: The charges are bullshit.

  • by PeeAitchPee (712652) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @08:30AM (#46766007)
    I think you meant the Steubenville High School football players [wikipedia.org]. Steubenville is actually in Ohio.
  • Re:WTF?? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Talderas (1212466) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @08:30AM (#46766009)

    Yes, the kid got charged because he violated Pennsylvania's wiretapping and recording laws. Pennsylvania is a two-party consent state so both parties to the conversation must consent before a recording can be made.

    No, you would not be arrested and charged for video taping someone stealing your car because you aren't recording a conversation.

  • Re:WTF?? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @08:43AM (#46766135)

    Yes, the kid got charged because he violated Pennsylvania's wiretapping and recording laws. Pennsylvania is a two-party consent state so both parties to the conversation must consent before a recording can be made.

    A good lawyer would get it thrown out for Necessity.

    "In U.S. criminal law, necessity may be either a possible justification or an exculpation for breaking the law. Defendants seeking to rely on this defense argue that they should not be held liable for their actions as a crime because their conduct was necessary to prevent some greater harm and when that conduct is not excused under some other more specific provision of law such as self defense." - wikipedia

    Recording the bullies was NECESSARY in order to prove the bullying existed, so it could be dealt with.

  • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @08:56AM (#46766283) Homepage Journal

    Appropriately, the page with TFA has an ad encouraging me to "Win an AR-15 from Sebastian Ammo". Google is getting scary...

    Must not have been a Google ad, Google doesn't allow gun ads [google.com]. Personally, I think that's stupid, but in the interest of accuracy, your ad couldn't have been from Google.

  • by korbulon (2792438) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @09:00AM (#46766329)

    Here are the details of the relevant parties:

    The "judge": Maureen McGraw-Desmet

    295 Millers Run Road Bridgeville, PA 15017 phone: 412-221-3353 fax: 412-221-0908

    The "officer": http://www.linkedin.com/pub/ro... [linkedin.com]

    and then there's this piece of shit: http://www.southfayette.org/si... [southfayette.org] (smilburn@southfayette.org)

    If ever there was a job for Anonymous...

  • Re:WTF?? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @09:13AM (#46766461)
    There are two things about this. Pennsylvania's "two-party consent" only applies in situations where those being recorded without their consent have a "reasonable expectation of privacy." I have a problem with the judge finding that people (teachers and students) have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the classroom. The other thing is that the Pennsylvania law also has an exception that states that you do not need to permission of someone who is committing a crime in the recording. That would not have applied in this case since not all of those being recorded were committing a crime. (I am not sure if any of the actions recorded crossed over into criminal territory, or not. Although if I was a judge, or on a jury, they are at a minimum close enough that I would be unwilling to convict the person recording them.)
  • Re:WTF?? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Talderas (1212466) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @09:20AM (#46766537)

    I'm going to play devil's advocate here because I read the article to see what event had transpired.

    Necessity typically requires three tests to be a valid defense, the defendent needs to be breaking the law to avoid a significant risk of harm, there were no adequate lawful means to address the situation, and the harm avoided was greater than the harm caused by breaking the law. The problem in this situation is the second one. The problem is that neither of the articles suggested that any other steps were taken to stop the bullying prior to committing the recording. That's the problem. There's no suggestion that the boy told his mother about the bullying, there's no suggestion that the mother contacted the school about the bullying before the recording was made. All that exists is a vague statement that the boy felt powerless so he made the recording. No suggestion as to why he felt powerless, be it lack of response when bringing the issue up or due to his own disabilities. This situation, unlike many of the clear cases of necessity, had a long period of time over which to address the problem rather than requiring near immediate action such as to prevent someone from being injured or killed.

  • Re:WTF?? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @09:35AM (#46766725)

    To be honest, this story comes across as a bit sensational. Two minutes of research shows an *out* from the wire taping statute.

    Necessity is a defense, although quite tough to use in practice; it's a bit like successfully using an insanity defense -- possible, but highly unlikely. Also, the necessity description you provide is a general statement of the principle, not the language Pennsylvania has adopted. As a common law defense, the state courts adoption is what controls. Moreover, necessity isn't always a defense (even if you prove the elements) -- it depends upon how the statue is written.

    Turning to the OUT I mentioned above, there is an exception built right into the statue. Full text can be found here:
    http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/LI/consCheck.cfm?txtType=HTM&ttl=18&div=0&chpt=57

    In relevant part, the wiretapping statute provides:
    ---------
      5703 Provides "**Except** as otherwise provided in this chapter, a person is guilty of a felony of the third degree if he: (1) intentionally intercepts, endeavors to intercept, or procures any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept any wire, electronic or oral communication;"

      5704 Contains a long list of exceptions. For the most part they apply to police, telecom, or telemarketers (go figure). Subsection 17 is relevant here ...

      5704 (17) Any victim ... 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.

    If the bullying was as bad as the article describes, the student could surely have reasonable suspicion that the party was about to commit a crime of violence.

    You can read more about this here:
    http://www.phila-criminal-lawyer.com/Publications/New-Wire-Tap-Act.shtml

  • Re:WTF?? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @09:50AM (#46766895)

    The problem is that neither of the articles suggested that any other steps were taken to stop the bullying prior to committing the recording.

    Geez, you didn't read the article very well. The authorities were aware of it- It was going on right in front of the teacher, as shown in the recording: "as the teacher is heard attempting to help her son with a math problem, a student says, “You should pull his pants down!” Another student replies, “No, man. Imagine how bad that (c**t) smells! No one wants to smell that (t**t).” As the recording continues, the teacher instructs the classroom that they may only talk if it pertains to math."
    and
    "Love testified, “ I didn’t believe it (the bullying) was as bad as what it was. And when I heard the recording, I flipped out. He did not want me to say anything to anybody, but I wanted to be able to say something because what I heard was not right. It was not okay.”

    There's no suggestion that the boy told his mother about the bullying

    FTFA: "In his defense, the student testified as to why he made the recording. “I wanted her (Love) to understand what I went through. Like, it wasn’t like I was overexaggerating it. I wasn’t lying. It was really happening. I was really having things like books slammed upside my head. I wanted it to stop. I just felt like nothing was being done.” Love testified that she was aware of the bullying but, “I did not tell him to record. I did hear the recording. I’ve emailed her (the special education teacher) several times on this incident with other kids.”"

    there's no suggestion that the mother contacted the school about the bullying

    "I’ve emailed her (the special education teacher) several times on this incident with other kids"

    This situation, unlike many of the clear cases of necessity, had a long period of time over which to address the problem rather than requiring near immediate action such as to prevent someone from being injured or killed.

    Yes, the school DID have a long time to address the bullying problem. Another article (http://triblive.com/news/allegheny/5945781-74/fayette-south-district#axzz2z3ZQiAcV) says "Love, 40, an Air Force veteran, sent Christian's teacher several emails about his complaints between October and February, according to testimony from the hearing." October, November, December, January, February. 5 MONTHS the school had to rein in the bullies, and they failed to do so. And now it was getting physical: " “I really was having things like books slammed upside of my head.”" Sounds like it was escalating, and could very easily have resulted in him "being injured or killed" before long.

  • Re:WTF?? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sabriel (134364) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @10:09AM (#46767125)

    WTF? Bullying _is_ against the law. You repeatedly intimidate and threaten me, causing me to fear for my safety? That's "assault". You trip me, making me drop my lunchbox? That's "battery". And so on. Just because you're a child and in a sane system you would be required to undergo counselling rather than also be facing fines/prison as adults might, or because in the farcical bizarro world of many schools that you get away with it, doesn't make what you're doing even remotely lawful.

    That officer who, instead of conducting a proper investigation into a potential serial harassment/assault/battery case, told the victim to delete the recording or be charged with felony wiretapping? That officer should be hauled up to explain why he shouldn't be charged with "destruction of evidence and obstruction of justice under colour of authority", which are federal crimes. And if it was done under orders from above? Add "conspiracy under colour of authority".

    But, of course, that's in a sane and rational justice system that actually contains justice, rather than the authoritarian sociopathic farce that is far too common.

    (note: exact wording of charges may/will differ depending on your jurisdiction / country of residence)

  • by kaizendojo (956951) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @10:15AM (#46767209)
    And If you're looking for the Superintendant of the District: Bille Rondinelli, Superintendent brondinelli@southfayette.org
  • Re:WTF?? (Score:4, Informative)

    by j-beda (85386) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @10:40AM (#46767499) Homepage

    To be honest, this story comes across as a bit sensational. Two minutes of research shows an *out* from the wire taping statute.

    Necessity is a defense, although quite tough to use in practice; it's a bit like successfully using an insanity defense -- possible, but highly unlikely. Also, the necessity description you provide is a general statement of the principle, not the language Pennsylvania has adopted. As a common law defense, the state courts adoption is what controls. Moreover, necessity isn't always a defense (even if you prove the elements) -- it depends upon how the statue is written.

    Turning to the OUT I mentioned above, there is an exception built right into the statue. Full text can be found here:
    http://www.legis.state.pa.us/c... [state.pa.us]

    In relevant part, the wiretapping statute provides:
    ---------

      5703 Provides "**Except** as otherwise provided in this chapter, a person is guilty of a felony of the third degree if he: (1) intentionally intercepts, endeavors to intercept, or procures any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept any wire, electronic or oral communication;"

      5704 Contains a long list of exceptions. For the most part they apply to police, telecom, or telemarketers (go figure). Subsection 17 is relevant here ...

      5704 (17) Any victim ... 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.

    If the bullying was as bad as the article describes, the student could surely have reasonable suspicion that the party was about to commit a crime of violence.

    You can read more about this here:
    http://www.phila-criminal-lawy... [phila-crim...lawyer.com]

    Good point!

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