Charge against South Fayette student who recorded alleged bullying will be dropped
April 17, 2014 12:07 AM
Shea Love greets a well-wisher on Wednesday as her son Christian Stanfield, 15, watches, outside a restaurant in South Fayette. Earlier, the Allegheny County district attorney’s office announced that it was withdrawing a charge of summary disorderly conduct against Christian, who recorded one of a series of bullying instances against him in his math resources class.
By Paula Reed Ward / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Fifteen-year-old Christian Aaron True Stanfield likes that he is a good kid. That he has a reputation for doing the right thing and being honest.
So when he was found guilty of a summary disorderly conduct charge by a district judge last month for recording one in a series of bullying incidents against him in his math resources class, he was devastated.
Not just because his need for help was summarily overlooked by South Fayette school administrators and police, but because his good record had been sullied.
On Wednesday, Christian learned that the Allegheny County district attorney's office will withdraw that count at a hearing April 29 in Common Pleas Court.
"It's awesome," he said when he got the news. "It eases my mind a lot."
Mike Manko, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, said his office is not involved in the issuance of summary citations but gets the case at the appellate level in Common Pleas Court. He said the single count against Christian will be withdrawn.
"The behavior does not rise to the level of a citation," Mr. Manko said. "No one who is authorized to give advice on wiretap or school violation issues was contacted in our office by the school district or South Fayette police. Multiple attempts to contact the officer who wrote the citation have been made.
"We have not heard from him."
Although Christian's mother, Shea Love, sent repeated emails and complaints about problems her son was having to school administrators and to his special education teacher, she said, it appeared no action was taken against the group of boys who were bothering him.
Christian, Ms. Love said, has been diagnosed with ADHD and an anxiety disorder. But, she continued, he also has a processing disability, which means that it takes him longer to process things in his mind.
She estimated there had been eight to 10 incidents in his math class, which ranged from spitwads being shot at her son to hand sanitizer being thrown at his back to attempting to burn Christian with a lighter.
On Feb. 11, Christian used his iPad mini to make an audio recording of what was happening in his class.
"I just recorded it because I always felt like it wasn't me being heard," he testified at his March 19 hearing, according to a transcript. "Like, I'd always go home or tell my mom that this is happening, but I don't actually have anything to show for it. So it was kind of, like, basically my voice wasn't being heard and I wanted some help. So it wasn't, like, I -- this wasn't just a one-time thing. This always happens every day in that class.
"I wanted it to stop. I just felt like nothing was being done."
School administrators, when they learned of the recording the next morning after Ms. Love complained, forced Christian to delete it.
But his mother was able to describe the seven-minute recording in detail.
At first, she said, Christian's teacher is trying to instruct him. The other boys in the background can be heard making vulgar comments, including one suggesting another pull down Christian's pants.
Although the teacher corrects them, the abuse doesn't stop. Then, Ms. Love said, there's a loud slam.
"And they all burst out laughing, and one says, 'What? I was just trying to scare him.' "
The teacher is never heard asking Christian if he is OK, if he needs to leave the room, or to ask the other boys to leave, Ms. Love said.
"None of that," she continued. "It blows my mind."
The next day at 8 a.m., she called the school and told them what she heard.
By 8:20, administrators had called the South Fayette police to report a possible wiretap violation. In Pennsylvania, a person must obtain consent to record someone else.
"It's very disappointing they didn't handle this differently," Ms. Love said. "[I understand] you can't record people, but let's fix what's going on."
By 10 a.m., school officials called Ms. Love, and when she arrived at the school, she learned her son would be charged.
Lt. Robert Kurta, who never heard the actual recording but was told about it by administrators, encouraged Ms. Love to accept the summary disorderly conduct count.
School officials said Christian would have to serve a Saturday detention, but that they also would take him out of the math class.
"He needs that class," Ms. Love said. "But he needs to be safe more."
The school district on Wednesday issued a statement saying some of the information being reported on this incident is "inaccurate or incomplete."
The statement goes on to say the district is legally precluded from commenting specifically on the issue.
"The South Fayette Township School District follows its policies regarding harassment and bullying. School district officials treat any and all reports of bullying timely and seriously, and with the utmost care and sensitivity," the district's statement reads.
Lt. Kurta, who issued the disorderly conduct citation, could not be reached for comment.
Although he told District Judge Maureen McGraw-Desmet at the March 19 hearing he believed there was a wiretap violation, he testified that he didn't want the boy to have a felony record.
South Fayette police, instead, charged Christian with a summary count of disorderly conduct.
Judge McGraw-Desmet found him guilty and fined Christian $25 plus court costs.
"I thought for sure that woman would have some sense and say, 'this is stupid' and throw it out," Ms. Love said.
Since the story started making its rounds in the media, Ms. Love said she and her son have been overwhelmed by the amount of support they've received.
"The children in the school have been shockingly supportive," she said. "It's almost like these people are giving Christian a voice."
Ms. Love praised the planned withdrawal of the charge.
"That's amazing," she said. "Do I think it's a cowardly way out for South Fayette? Absolutely."
But, she continued, "It's going to repair his soul."
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