A Hope for Justice: Indictments Follow In School Bullying Death

As readers of this blog are well aware from my previous posts on the subject of the school bullying death by suicide of Phoebe Prince in January (as well as the suicide death of Carl Joseph Walker Hoover last April 2009, I feel that there should be much stronger anti-bullying laws on the books in Massachusetts – stronger than the one recently passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives. That proposed law would require school staff members to report suspected incidents and require principals to investigate those incidents. It would also require that schools teach about the dangers of bullying – but it would not make bullying a crime.

There should be a law making bullying in schools a criminal offense- and one can only hope that on the civil side of the law, that courts in this sate and elsewhere will soon issue clear and unequivocal decisions holding school districts, teachers, and school administrators liable for failing to take reasonable measures to stop such vicious assault and battery. Teachers unions and school districts howl in protest at this idea. They and similarly-minded people say that it’s too difficult to adequately “define” bullying on a legal level – that proposed definitions of bullying are “too vague”, and a “threat to free speech.” If the tragic cases of Phoebe Prince and Carl Jospeh Walker Hoover can’t convince these Neanderthals, they should read the case of Nicholas Parsons of Tewksbury.

Finally, today, a Massachusetts District Attorney stood up and took the courageous step that a lot of people watching the cases of Phoebe Price and Carl Joseph Walker Hoover were waiting for: Yesterday, March 29 2010, Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth D. Scheibel announced that nine separate felony indictments have been issued against nine teenagers attending South Hadley High School, all involved in the brutal bullying campaign waged against Phoebe Prince. The felony indictments range from stalking to statutory rape. The most serious of these charges carry lengthy state prison sentences, though I doubt any of these defendants will serve time in state prison. Even though as a Boston criminal defense lawyer I practice on the other side of the legal aisle than District Attorney Scheibel, I applaud her for this unequivocal action.

Charged in connection with the death of Phoebe Prince are the following South Hadley High School students:

• Football player Sean Mulveyhill, 17, of South Hadley: charged with statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury, harassment and disturbance of a school assembly.
• Austin Renaud, 18, of Springfield was charged with statutory rape.
• Kayla Narey, 17, of South Hadley was charged with violation of civil rights with bodily injury, criminal harassment, and disturbance of a school assembly.
• Ashley Longe, 16, of South Hadley was charged with violation of civil rights with bodily injury as a youthful offender. (A “Youthful Offender” is a legal term used to describe a criminal defendant who is younger than 17, but older than 14.)
• Flannery Mullins, 16, of South Hadley was charged with violation of civil rights with bodily injury, and stalking as a youthful offender.
• Sharon Chanon Velazquez, 16, of South Hadley was charged with violation of civil rights with bodily injury, and stalking as a youthful offender.
• Additionally, three female juveniles, (aged 14 or younger,) who were not named but are all from South Hadley, are also being charged.

Other teenagers could still also be charged, according to Scheibel.

The “stalking” charges refer to these students following and harassing young Phoebe, throughout the school building as well as off school property. The “Disturbance of a school assembly” charges relate to attacks these students made upon the Prince girl, in public areas of the school such as the library where one attack occurred. The civil rights charges refer to Massachusetts as well as federal civil rights offenses these students committed against Prince. The statutory rape charges refer to allegations that the two male students engaged in sex with Prince, whether with her consent or not.

The evidence that the District Attorney’s office uncovered in this case is truly sickening. These twisted students – particularly (whether certain “feminists” groups like it or not,) the seven female students charged here – acted like a pack of wolves, out to kill their prey. And psychologically, they slowly tore her to shreds. When they weren’t physically threatening her and inflicting assault and battery upon her at and near school, they used social networking sites to take her apart, calling her, among several other lies, and “Irish slut.” What did 15 year-old Phoebe Prince do to deserve this brutality? She went on a couple of dates with a senior. These girls, ugly to their core, didn’t like that.

On the final day of all this physical and mental torture, after this pack of wild, twisted animals had attacked Phoebe in the school library right in front of a teacher (who did nothing,) in the lunchroom and the hallways, and threw a canned drink at her as she walked home, she reached her limit of endurance. Her sister found her hanging from a stairwell at home, still in her school clothes, at 4:30 p.m. I truly hope these nine twisted kids serve time. I really do. I know that may sound unusual coming from a Norfolk County criminal defense attorney, but I really do hope this results. The reason? Because if these charges are proven to be true – after a fair trial – then those found guilty deserve to be punished –and severely.

There is a gravestone with this girl’s name on it. There is a family, brought to this country by hope and optimism, that is now and will be forever more devastated by this tragedy. Those found guilty should serve time. Because I’m a defense lawyer, doesn’t preclude my desire for justice.

And while the primary actors here were these students, what’s going to happen to all the adults that were part of this tragedy – the school administrators who Phoebe Prince’s mother pleaded with to intervene and protect her daughter; the teachers who knew what was going on, but failed to act aggressively in stopping this carnage? It seems nothing. District Attorney Scheibel’s investigation found this evidence of inaction by school administrators particularly disturbing. Her official statement of yesterday reads as follows: “Contrary to previously published reports, Phoebe’s harassment was common knowledge to most of the South Hadley High School student body. The investigation has revealed that certain faculty, staff and administrators of the high school also were alerted to the harassment of Phoebe Prince before her death. Prior to Phoebe’s death, her mother spoke with at least two school staff members about the harassment Phoebe had reported to her.” Yet, despite the District Attorney’s conclusion that South Hadley High School staffers appear to have left 15-year-old Prince to fend for herself in a teenage jungle surrounded by a pack of bloodthirsty predators, it appears they broke no laws. Notwithstanding this legal technicality, the district attorney commented that “The actions or inactions of some adults at the school are troublesome.” She said Prince’s mother spoke to “at least two school staff members” about the bullying and the harassment was “common knowledge” around the school. Yet nothing was done.

So it seems these “adults” who did little to nothing to prevent this brutal bullying will walk away scot-free, and many parents in South Hadley are justifiably disgusted. They ought to be. But perhaps they shouldn’t be surprised: These “teachers” are probably of the same type that produce students unable to spell common, everyday words or do simple math. They have little regard for what goes on in their classrooms, and look the other way when it comes to poor teaching, or just about anything else. You know the type. A lot of responsible, respected journalists in the media are equally disgusted. Margery Eagen of the Boston Herald yesterday summed up: “Now we know: The adults knew, and did nothing.”

I hope these “adults” never know another night’s restful sleep. And I hope those charged who are either found guilty after a fair trial, or who plead to guilty through a plea deal, are punished to the full extent of the law (hopefully, with jail time.) That’s what’s called “justice” under the law. Phoebe Prince and her grieving family deserve no less.