Rebecca Sedgwick, the Lakeland FL girl who transferred from Crystal Lake Middle School to the Lawton Chiles Academy because of her family did not believe the earlier school was adequately addressing the bullying she experienced from some fellow students, and who then committed suicide after leaving for school one day this past fall, apparently had problems other than the cyberbullying that attracted national attention.
The Associated Press has filed a report that it examined more than 300 pages of investigatory documents - not clear if these were from the Lakeland PD or the Polk County Scheriff's Office - and concluded that the case is much more complicated than cyberbulling, and that cyberbulling isn't covered in the documents as extensively as possible problems in the girl's home and related to breaking up with an online boyfriend.
The AP article mentions that Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd rushed to charge two girls with cyberbullying Sedgwick to death and then had to drop the charges. This kind of understates just how sordid the entire story is. More below fold
Sedgwick and her family complained about Crystal Lake Middle School the previous school year, and she left it to be homescooled. It is possible that there are privacy reasons that we don't really know how the school dealt with these issues, but they didn't. Neither did the sheriff's office, which was informed back then as well.
The solution was to transfer to LCA, a K-8 magnet school named after the late former Gof. and U.S. Sen from Lakeland. State funding cutbacks caused the county to create longer and fewer magnet school routes, that by September were still resulting in commutes of up to two hours each way for the students. In addition, LCA's automatic telephoning system, was not functioning on Sept. 8, the date of Sedgwick's suicide. For both reasons, her parents were not telephoned that morning when she was reported absent from her first period class. And her parents waited until 6 p.m. to telephone questioning why she had yet to arrive home on a school bus.
Sedgwick's mother, Patricia Norman, took the first steps to sue the school district for failing to protect her daughter, but most of the attention since the death has involved bullyinig and cyberbullying. Pep rallies against bullying were held at various schools. These programs existed before, but seemed ramped up because of the high-profile failure.
Note tht the school district doesn't address its most basic security problem, the consolidated magnet-school routes and the failure to report her absent that morning. This might be neither here nor there, but in addition, it is very difficult to find a responsible party for anything at the county office. In particular related to transportation. Callers over bus problems are told that only one or two individuals are authorized to take complaints, and those individuals are very ahrd to contact by telephone.
In particular, Judd quickly filed felony charges against two of Sedgwick's former classmates at Crystal Lake, charging them with the felong aggravated stalking. A particularly shocking FB post was offered to national news outlets, and serious big-name TV personalities read and shook their heads over the line "she's dead but IDGAF. (heart emoticon)."
The 14 year old among the two girls - other was 12 - was actually taken into custody. Judd told the media that the two terrorized the victim. The two girls' names and photographs are still available online as I type this, and were broadcast on cable and over-the-air television. Judd said he had confessions from the two minors.
It was also stated as fact that the conflict that led to the bullying was that one of the two girls charged was dating a boy who had previously dated Sedgwick. Judd also said he was looking into arresting the girls' parents as well. The older girl apparently used her boyfriend's last name in the "IDGAF" post.
Or did she. When given the case, the stte attorney quickly dropped it. Evidence problems. Some question about whether the girl had access to her FB account when the post was made. The posts that are quoted suggest that the confessiona that exist are out of adolescent guilt.
Baez is best known for representing Casey Anthony.; Note that Judd continues to claim victory because he somehow kep the 14-year-old girl from harassing anyone else and got them both into treatment. This is not really something new. Judd has made a reputation for himself with arrest statistics, and for a couple of really glistening cases of deadly force. In particular, Judd likes to publicize the identities of his arrests even when charges are not filed. That was the case with these two girls, even though they were and are minors. There has been talk that one or both of them had similarly been subjected to cyberbullying.
I don't have any punchy ending to this. Polk County, which includes Lakeland, has been stung by several law-enforcement scandals - most of them involving officer-civilian sex. Judd is as entrenched a political force as the county has. He is up for reelection and supposedly has an opponent, but he is also quite popular., Somehow, his departments own sex scandals haven't gotten near the coverage the Lakeland Police Department's have, even in the case when a child died of heat stroke while his mother was in the next car with an on-duty PCSD deputy.