Judge withdraws citation against South Fayette student who taped alleged bullying

An Allegheny County Common Pleas judge on Thursday signed an order withdrawing the disorderly conduct citation against a South Fayette student charged after he recorded an alleged bullying incident.

In the meantime, a state representative for that community plans to propose legislation that would allow the recording of a bullying incident if it is to serve as evidence.

Christian Stanfield, 15, was found guilty of a summary charge last month and was scheduled to appeal April 29, but Common Pleas Judge Robert C. Gallo signed the order early at the request of the Allegheny County District Attorney's office.

The prosecutor's office announced Wednesday it would withdraw the charge against Christian, saying his actions in using his iPad to record what he believed was abusive behavior toward him by other students in his math resources class did not rise to the level of a citation. The citation was for violating the state law against recording someone without permission.

Christian's mother, Shea Love, praised the decision Thursday.

"The support has been overwhelming," she said. "This has helped my son understand and come out of his shell."

Still Ms. Love is unhappy with how the school district and police handled her son's situation. She expects a large turnout at a school board meeting Tuesday.

"I would still like some answers, and I would still like some accountability."

Christian, who said he was repeatedly bullied by a group of students, used his iPad to record about seven minutes worth of class from Feb. 11. In the recording, Ms. Love said, the teacher can be heard attempting to provide instruction to Christian, but the other boys could be heard in the background being vulgar, and then slamming something near Christian to "scare" him.

She called the school administration the next morning to tell them about the recording. Christian was called to the office and forced to delete the recording. School officials then called South Fayette police to report a possible wiretap violation.

Lt. Robert Kurta testified at a hearing in March that he never heard the recording, but that he decided to charge Christian with the less-serious summary disorderly conduct charge.

District Judge Maureen McGraw-Desmet found Christian guilty and fined him $25.

Acting South Fayette police Chief John Phoennik said Thursday he could not comment on the case pending possible litigation.

"There's a lot more to it," he said.

South Fayette School Superintendent Bille Rondinelli issued a statement Wednesday saying that media accounts had been incorrect or incomplete, but that because of privacy laws she could not speak on the matter. She did say, however, that the district takes allegations of bullying seriously.

On Wednesday, in response to the public outcry in the case, state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, said he would introduce legislation in the House to amend the state's wiretap laws.

According to a news release, the amendment would permit the recording of a bullying incident if the person making it "is under a reasonable suspicion that evidence of bullying may be obtained from the recording."

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com and 412-263-2520.

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