Articles Posted in School Bullying

Last week, a video was circulated on YouTube, showing two teenage girls in a fist fight with each other. The video, which lasted almost nine minutes, depicted an ugly, violent fight between the two students at Lynn English High School in Lynn, Massachusetts. Blood is drawn as punch after punch is landed between the two students. As violent as the video was, though, it wasn’t just the image of these two girls fighting that caught the attention of thousands of viewers across the country. What stunned most everyone who saw it, was what also appeared in it: Over 30 other students, circled around the two girls, egging the two on and shouting encouragement during the entire video – even when one of the girls’ heads was smashed against a stone wall. Not one of the students – not one – stepped in to stop the fight, to call for help, or to do anything.

This event says a great deal about our culture in this country. The problem isn’t limited to Lynn; nor is it limited to Massachusetts. Rampant violence among teens and people of all ages, whether seen on a high school campus or in road rage on the highways: Increasing incivility, indifference, cruelty and apathy. It is a national problem, fueled in no small measure by the violence in the media that both young people and adults are toxically exposed to on a daily basis. Making matters far worse than in years past, the violence marketed to youth isn’t limited to movies any more: It’s sold in violent video games, containing the most barbaric, most twisted, most inhuman savagery ever witnessed. These are the type of violent video games that the U.S. Supreme Court recently prevented the State of California from regulating in any way concerning minors. Readers of this blog know that I’ve blogged previously on the subject of the sale and rental of violent video games to minors. In general, the increasing level of violence in this country is fueled by violence and depravity in the media. Rationally, there is little if any question about this. And those who deny it doubtless have financial interests in the media and the video game industries. Those who defend the manufacturers of violent video games are scarred by dishonesty and sophistry. Even more loathsome are their defenses advanced under the highbrow aegis of the First Amendment and “commercial free speech.”

The students in this incident at Lynn English High School weren’t charged criminally. But if they had been, the charges could have included assault and battery or assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, among charges. Instead of proceeding along criminal lines, officials at Lynn English High took a far more effective tact: Aside from the suspending 29 students who watched and encouraged this incident, which is nothing more than a “slap on the wrist”, they ordered each of the students to write an essay on the lessons learned from the 1964 murder of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese. This murder was one of hundreds committed across the country that year. So why was it so historical? Because over 38 people watched out their apartment windows, each without so much as lifting a finger to help, while Kitty Genovese was slowly stabbed to death on the street below. No one did anything. You can do more than click on the one link I’ve provided here about that historical event. Just Google her name.

In my previous post on this case, I discussed how five of the six defendants charged criminally in the death of Phoebe Prince, have received sentences far, far too lenient given the facts of this case.

For the death of an innocent 15 year-old who came to this country with hope and optimism, these five people were each sentenced to probation (and 100 hours of “community service.”) One year of probation, for deliberately terrorizing, assaulting, battering and driving another human being to the point of suicide. I find these sentences shocking in leniency, and unconscionable in the lighthearted judicial attitude toward what these students did. The judge who sentenced these defendants had the power to do more than this – much more. The charges that these five defendants pled guilty to – criminal harassment – is governed by M.G.L. Chapter 265, Sec. 43A. That statute provides for maximum penalties of 2 ½ years imprisonment in a House of Correction, a fine of $1,000.00, or both. Yet the judge hearing these cases sentenced these reprobates with essentially straight probation. As a Dedham Massachusetts criminal defense attorney, I find those sentences to be no more than a slap on the wrist, and unconscionable given the sickening facts of this case.

Prince’s mother, Anne O’Brien, broke her long silence to speak for the first time publicly, in court last week. In tears, she testified at the “sentencing” of Sean Mulveyhill, the football player who Prince had a brief relationship with and who later joined others in terrorizing her, saying that he went to great lengths to intentionally abuse, humiliate and betray Phoebe: “I can only imagine the pain (Phoebe) felt at his unrelenting desire to harass and humiliate her.” Mrs. O’Brien then read in court two of Phoebe’s last text messages in which she described her increasing desperation at the cruelty and brutality she was suffering at the hands of these students. One read, “I think Sean (Mulveryhill) condoning this is one of the final nails in my coffin,” she wrote. “I can’t take much more.” Her voice cracking, Mrs. O’Brien could barely read the second and final message: “It would be easier if he (Mulveyhill) handed me a noose.”

Being a Boston, Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer is not an easy job. It carries a high level of professional responsibility. It also requires the very special ability of being able to defend in court, people that you either know or strongly suspect are guilty of the crime they are charged with. And, unfortunately, some of those crimes can be pretty nasty – downright ugly. But the respect I have for our system of laws in the United States, and in Massachusetts, is what makes me able to stand up for my clients, and fight to preserve their legal rights in a court of law. It’s what I do for a living, and I do it very well.

So it was, however, with no small surprise to myself, that I was left noticeably disappointed, to say the very least, at the unconscionably lenient sentences handed down in two separate days last week in a courtroom in Northampton, Massachusetts. In court on the first of those two days were two of the six defendants charged criminally in the January 2010 suicide of Phoebe Prince, aged 15. All six are to blame morally – and I believe, legally – for the young girls’ desperate suicide – yet of the six, only one has really showed remorse or contrition for what happened here. The six students were charged in the late winter of 2010 by then-Berkshire County District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel with various counts of criminal charges in Prince’s death. Five of those defendants faced varying misdemeanor charges of assault and battery and criminal harassment, and it is beyond dispute and question that the six youths conspired together to assault, bully, harass, batter, and torment Prince. Finally, she could take no more. Despondent and bereft of any hope in herself or in the adults in her school that both she and her mother appealed to for help, the young girl took her own life. She hung herself with the scarf her sister had given her as a Christmas present. That same sister found her, dead. One defendant, Austin Renaud, 18, was charged with a felony offense of Massachusetts statutory rape against Prince – but surprisingly, Prince’s parents asked Scheibel’s successor, Berkshire County District Attorney David Sullivan, to drop those charges. As a Norfolk County Massachusetts rape defense lawyer, I assure you that says more about Prince’s parents, than it does Renaud, who will return to court later to have that judge likely dismissed.

Charging these youths was an act of courage by Elizabeth Scheibel. Many accused her of overcharging what these apologists characterized as “typical schoolyard behavior.” The callousness, frigidity, and arrogance of those kinds of comments is beyond understanding. I would have loved to drag every one of the morons who made such comments into Phoebe Princes’s wake, forced them to stare at her lifeless body and her devastated family, and hear them make those claims again. As a Dedham Massachusetts Assault & Battery lawyer, I believe that the facts and the law provided grounds to charge some of the youths with more serious crimes than the charges that five of the six were ultimately charged with, and had I been the District Attorney overseeing these cases, I would have pressed for more serious charges, no matter how incremental they were. Nonetheless, it took courage on Scheibel’s part to take the stand she did. In the approximately 15 months since Price hanged herself and these youths were charged with the crimes they were, the airwaves and water coolers around the very nation have been saturated with differing opinions on what legally should be done to punish these kids. The opinions ranged from serious jail time, to apologists who felt the youths should not have been charged in the first place.