Charges dropped in 14-year old Lakeland Girl’s Cyberbullying Suicide

Modern technology in its union with computers and the Internet is responsible for many changes in existing laws, both federal and local. A prime example of this is the crime of wire fraud which was previously defined as criminalities which were committed crossing state lines, mostly associated by telephone, telegraph, radio, and television. But in our current day environment, many types of crimes have been expanded to include new devices associated with computers as well as cell phones which didn’t exist when these laws were first placed on the books.

In addition to laws being lengthened to cover the new devices; which in many cases are used to commit crimes, innovative and new types of crimes have been devised through the use of these devices in the new digital world where we all can be affected.

Phishing scams, online sales scams and cyberbullying are just a few new crimes that didn’t exist before computers became popular and were ultimately coupled to the Internet.

An example of one of these modern crimes leads to the story of the suicide of a young girl who lived in Lakeland, Florida.

From all outward appearances, Rebecca Sedwick was an average 12-year-old, with all the challenges that young girls of that pre-teen age group face every day. But the investigation into her suicide revealed a troubling collection of tactics by her peers that by all appearances caused her to choose to end her life.

The story became a case of National prominence when two of Rebecca’s schoolmates from Crystal Lake Middle School were charged with a crime related to cyberbullying and intimidation by means of cellphone texts, social media and in-person verbal assaults.

Guadalupe Shaw and Katelyn Roman, were ages 14 and 12 respectively at the time they were charged with aggravated stalking in the death of Rebecca. The crime is a third-degree felony in the State of Florida. Both girls were eventually released into the custody of their parents although Shaw was first processed and spent a short time at a juvenile detention facility.

The findings of the investigation suggested that the older girl was the main culprit in the events that led up to the suicide. The investigation was launched soon after the suicide but the bullying began in 2012 and it was discovered that Rebecca was allegedly tormented by as many as fifteen girls, instigated by Shaw who was dating a boy that was previously Rebecca’s boyfriend. It may have been this element that caused Shaw to start turning classmates against her.

When the younger Katelyn Roman was interviewed by investigators, she told them that when the in-person taunting began at school, she was still friends with Rebecca. But Shaw “had so many people on her side.” She went on to tell investigators that around that time, she told Rebecca she didn’t think it was a good idea for them to remain friends. Rebecca didn’t take that news well and replied “it didn’t matter, because I (she) wasn’t a good friend anyway.” Roman continued by saying that “everyone was telling me she was a liar. I’d hear it all around school… Every day, I’d hear stuff about her… I didn’t want to believe what everyone was saying, but I didn’t know what to do.”

Shortly after the taunting began Katelyn and Rebecca got into a physical altercation between classes at school which was broken up by a teacher.

But it was the online taunting and bullying followed by a seemingly never-ending horde of text messages that caused the Polk County Sheriff to bring formal charges against the two girls despite their ages.

The hateful texts started in 2012 via cellphone and messaging applications including ask.fm, an anonymous question and answer platform website, Kik, an instant messaging application for mobile devices, and Voxer, a “Walkie Talkie app” and voice messaging system for smartphones.

Some of the texts that were discovered through the investigation said “You’re ugly”, “Why are you still alive?”, and “Can u die please?”

It was around that time that Rebecca started cutting herself with razor blades. Some of the images which were posted by Rebecca herself, on some of the aforementioned messaging sites as well as Facebook showed her cutting herself in the upper thigh, displaying her arms and body covered in cuts, showing a razor placed on the inside of her arm, as well as a picture showing her lying with her head on railroad tracks.

In early 2013, Tricia Norman, Sedwick’s mother, filed a complaint with the Polk County Sheriff’s office reporting that her daughter was the target of physical threats, also stating that she had an “ongoing feud” with another student. The student, who was unnamed in the report but implied to be Shaw, claimed that she never touched Sedwick when questioned by police. When Norman realized the abuse her daughter was facing she closed her daughter’s Facebook page, took away her cell phone, and ultimately had her transferred to a new school in August 2013 after first attempting to home school her beforehand in January of that year.

After weeks of investigation and scrutiny of thousands of Facebook messages the charges were ultimately dropped by the Polk County state attorney’s office. It was decided that there wasn’t enough concrete evidence to succeed with a prosecution against the girls even though an apparent admission by Shaw was plainly damaging, and the main reason that the Sheriff decided to pursue charges in the first place. Below is the Facebook post made by Shaw after the Sedwick suicide:
“Yes ik [I know] I bullied Rebecca nd [and] she killed her self [sic] but IDGAF [I don’t give a F…]

Presently, there are no federal laws that address the issue of cyberbullying but Tricia Norman, along with her attorney are aggressively pressing for a federal anti-bullying law. And in the State of Florida, Norman is fighting for the legislation of “Rebecca’s Law”, which would define statutory penalties for in-person bullying as well as this type of intimidation via the Internet and by use of other communication devices.

To find out more about Cyberbullying, its penalties in the State of Florida, and other crimes related to it, follow this link found on my Website.

Michael B. Cohen is a criminal defense attorney whose practice concentrates on allegations that include charges brought forward by the State of Florida as well as federal charges advanced by the government. His offices are based in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach and serve all municipalities throughout the state.

If you, a friend, or a family member is charged with any type of crime involving a communication device or the Internet including cyberbullying, as well as any other criminal allegations, Mr. Cohen’s law firm can assist with a strong defense for any charges alleged.

To view all of Mr. Cohen’s qualifications and understand why my law office is the correct choice for fighting charges of cyberbullying or any other criminal charges, click here.

**All Articles and Web pages that have been used to research this blog post, in full or in part can be found on the Internet at the links listed below:

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/doublex/2014/04/rebecca_sedwick_suicide_sheriff_grady_judd_never_should_have_arrested_katelyn.html

http://heavy.com/news/2013/10/katelyn-roman-guadalupe-shaw-rebecca-sedwick-bullying-suicide/

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/florida-girls-arrested-bullied-ex-classmate-suicide-article-1.1486095

http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/25/us/rebecca-sedwick-bullying-suicide-case

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=idgaf

http://polkcounty.wtsp.com/news/news/492512-mom-daughter-12-took-life-because-bullying

http://www.wtsp.com/story/news/local/2014/04/08/rebecca-sedwick-case-file/7458373/

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/22/us/charges-dropped-against-florida-girls-accused-in-cyberbullying-death.html?_r=0