Friday, May 6, 2011

Teens Sentenced in Phoebe Prince Bullying Case

Five teens facing criminal charges for bullying in connection with the 2010 suicide of Phoebe Prince have pleaded guilty and been sentenced to probation and community service. According to the Christian Science Monitor:


Sean Mulveyhill and Kayla Narey were sentenced on Wednesday to a year of probation and 100 hours of community service with at-risk youth, in exchange for admitting criminal harassment. Sharon Velazquez and Ashley Longe received similar sentences Thursday in juvenile court, and Flannery Mullins was sentenced for a civil rights violation, also in juvenile court. The courts also prohibited them from telling their stories for profit during the probation period.


For some of the teens, their records will be cleared if they successfully complete probation. The charges originally filed ranged from statutory rape to violations of Prince’s civil rights.


Prince, a freshman at South Hadley High School who had recently moved from Ireland, dated Mr. Mulveyhill, and after they broke up he and the girls directed threats and insults against her, including slurs against her Irish ethnicity. In the time leading up to her suicide, Prince feared being attacked and frequently visited the school nurse or avoided school.


Prince’s family agreed to the sentences, in which the more-serious charges were dropped, to avoid drawn-out trials, prosecutors said. Another teen, Austin Renaud, has pleaded not guilty to statutory rape and is due in court later this year.


The proceedings “signify that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated in our schools and when it rises to the level of criminal conduct ... those responsible will be prosecuted,” Steven Gagne, Northwestern first assistant district attorney, said in a statement after Wednesday’s sentencings.


Alfred Chamberland, a lawyer for Ms. Mullins, said in a statement that prosecutors had “overcharged” the girls and that the media had unfairly portrayed them as “mean girls and bullies.”


Some educators raise concerns that criminal cases are not the best way to address bullying. While the Prince case “has helped put bullying and cyberbullying on the educational agenda ..., children are very reluctant to report bullying to adults, and the threat of sanctions may make it less likely they will do so,” says Peter Sommer, head of the Cambridge Friends School in Massachusetts. “Interventions really have to be more educational than punitive.”


But others applaud the prosecutors. The comprehensive set of charges was the best approach to prosecuting cyberbullying that she’s ever seen, says Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety, an online safety group.

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