Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

Massachusetts Bullying Indictments And Legislation Controversy Are Revisited In New Reports

Gee, it seems like only yesterday that this Boston criminal defense attorney was going against the grain and calling the indictment of six kids from South Hadley a senseless exercise of political grandstanding…or words to that effect. Don’t believe that I saw what everybody else was heralding as “heroic” as folly? Check out my postings since January as well as my comments on the equally “heroic” legislation on both the blog and Fox25!

Now, a couple of developments have some people reconsidering the events.

When 15-year-old Phoebe Prince committed suicide in January, six fellow South Hadley students were blamed for relentlessly bullying her. It was an easy fix for SuperDA Elizabeth Scheibel – indict them all and ruin their lives.

Whoops!

A new report shows there may have been factors other than bullying that led to the death of the South Hadley student.

Court documents, recently obtained by Emily Bazelon of the online magazine Slate, contain police interviews with Phoebe’s mother, classmates, teachers and administrators that tell a different story; one that suggests the teen’s troubles extended beyond the halls of South Hadley High.

The documents have been heretofore undisclosed to the public. They involve Phoebe’s mental health issues previous to the suicide. For example, they reveal that in November of last year, Phoebe attempted suicide by swallowing an entire bottle of the anti-psychotic drug Seroquel and going into organ failure.

Yes, this would be before that tragic day of relentless abuse that ended in the undeniable tragedy.

Also detailed in the documents is the fact that Phoebe had taken Prozac, and had a history of cutting herself. …from chest to hip.

There is no question Phoebe was bullied: evidence ranges from tortured text messages the day of her death to student and teacher testimony. But now, there are questions about whether bullying is the whole story.

“It’s more complicated than the idea of a predatory pack of kids descending on her and there are different levels of culpability of the kids,” Bazelon said.

But what of the school system in South Hadley itself? Surely, between the Heroic DA and the rushed-but-“strongest in the nation” legislation, any bullying there has been crushed….right?

Well, actually, kind of not so much.

Students in South Hadley say bullying continues even after the suicides and new anti-bullying laws in the state. In fact, the parent of one middle school student is seeking criminal charges.

That’s right, “seeking”, as in “prosecutors have not taken action on their own yet”.

According to the parent, her 12-year-old boy has been picked on, punched and slammed into lockers right up to the end of the school year in June.

In case you are wondering….two of the three of these allegations are considered assault and battery and have been illegal even before the new legislation. Of course, speaking of the new Massachusetts law, it does require teachers and staff members to report bullying and then for the school to investigate and, if appropriate, report it to the police if it seems a crime has been committed.

“Why the school didn’t take the appropriate measures as outlined in their own handbook is still a question,” said Beth Coushaine, the mother of the alleged victim.

“It is outrageous that things should get to the point where they now have to be handled in a courtroom when they could just as easily, and more appropriately, have been handled by the school,” added Abigail Williams, the attorney for the alleged victim.

Three parents are suing the South Hadley School Committee for how they handled the bullying and suicide of Prince. In light of the tragedy, the School Committee has been meeting to discuss a new bullying policy for the school.

Attorney Sam’s Take:

“Hey,Sam, what’s the big revelation? The bullying did occur, right?”

Sure it did. The bullying in this case occurred just as it, and circumstances much more violent, has occurred since children were invented. However, although some such cases have made their way to the criminal and civil courts, they are not typically indicted. These particular kids were indicted because the chief law enforcement politician of the county declared that these facts were so heinous so as to cause a suicide.

Further, this was somehow going to make a difference.

So far, the only difference it has made has been in ruining the lives of the six accused kids. As for the purported rationale…well, that seems to have been mistaken.

Woops, sorry kids. Guess we got alittle over zealous. Who was supposed to be the bully in this case?

Bullying been has been around since kids were invented. It is horrible and we should do everything reasonable to prevent and combat it. This was not it. Neither was the passage of “feel-good” legislation which merely, at best, gave a false sense of security.

What needs to happen is a thoughtful approach. Are you a school system, parent or even student who would like to really deal with the issue? Let’s talk. I am more than happy to consult. But let’s not make the misleading mistake that our positions do. Understand…it will take work and it will take time.

So, I wonder what approach the heroic DA will now take in light of the new discoveries by the public? I vote for “none”. After all, we may have just discovered the facts…but apparently they were contained in the court file. This means that the prosecutor had already been aware of them.

Have you heard of any movement to dismiss the indictments or go after other people in the short life of Phoebe?

No, I haven’t either.

Maybe I wasn’t crazy and “pro-bully” after all. Maybe you had realized the fallacy of the legal answers in this case too. Perhaps I just gave voice to what you were thinking. Call me the Howard Stern of criminal justice.

Whatever you want to call this debacle….let’s try to fix it.

In the meantime, if you find yourself accused in such a matter and would like to consult with me regarding representing you , please feel free to give me a call at 617-492-3000 .

To view the original story upon which today’s blog was based, please go to http://www1.whdh.com/news/articles/local/12001743376299/reasons-besides-bullying-for-s-hadley-suicide/ and http://www1.whdh.com/news/articles/local/12001577008342/

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