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The Sheriff of Polk County, Fla. has arrested two middle school girls for bullying another girl, Rebecca Sedwick, until her suicide earlier this month.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Facebook comments were the last straw after a month long investigation into Sedwick’s death. Two girls were arrested on felony aggravated stalking charges.
Judd read Saturday night’s Facebook post aloud at a press conference earlier this week: “Yes IK I bullied REBECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF” [sic].
Judd said he was upset the girl’s parents hadn’t taken away her access to online social networks, and he arrested her to make sure she didn’t bully anyone else.
Her parents claim their daughter’s account was hacked. Judd refutes that claim.
“Our criminal case was not built upon that Saturday data,” Judd told Here & Now‘s Robin Young. “And second of all, we have absolutely no reason to believe that it’s a hacker because it follows the pattern of activity from the evidence and witnesses we’ve already talked to.”
The investigation, which is still open, includes data from other social media websites.
“It’s not about one action that caused Rebecca to jump to her death,” Judd said. “She was tormented for months and months and months, to November of ’12. And not just online, but in person, in school.”
Judd does admit openly that he has been touched by Sedwick’s death.
“I was there that day,” Judd said. “I was there when I saw that 12 year-old child — that baby — dead at the foot of that cement plant. It broke my heart. And if there is anything that I can do to make sure that that never happens to another child, not just in my county but across the state and across the nation and around my world, I want to do that. Bullying shouldn’t be a law enforcement issue. The first line of defense are the parents. The second line of defense are the friends and the neighbors.”
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
Parents of a 14-year-old Florida girl arrested in a bullying suicide investigation say she wasn't the one who posted a recent vicious comment. She was hacked. And before the suicide, they say they were never told their daughter was a bully. The post that appeared on her Facebook page Saturday night read: Yes, IK, I know, I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself. I don't care. That last part paraphrase. Rebecca is the 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick, who killed herself by jumping off the tower of an abandoned concrete factory last month.
The Facebook post on Saturday was too much for Polk Country Sheriff Grady Judd. He arrested the 14-year-old and her 12-year-old friend Monday, even though the investigation is ongoing. He joins us now. And Sheriff Judd, how do you respond to the parents' claim that their daughter's account was hacked?
SHERIFF GRADY JUDD: Well, quite frankly, our criminal case was not built upon that Saturday data. And second of all, we have absolutely no reason to believe that it's a hacker because it follows the pattern of activity from the evidence and the witnesses we've already talked to.
YOUNG: Well, and this is what propelled you. You were going to continue the investigation, but you decided to, what, arrest them immediately?
JUDD: We did. And the reason for that is, on Monday we had a meeting with the detectives and their supervisors. And I said, what are we waiting on at this point? We already knew. We were trying to get all of the data from all of the social media sites, and it was being problematic. And I said, do you have a case now? And they said, yes. I said, well, we need to lock her up. Obviously, she doesn't get it.
YOUNG: Sheriff, you said a couple of things. Just to help us here, part of the reason the investigation is so hard is, as you said, you were trying to get through these cellphone sites. What are the names of the sites?
JUDD: Yes. Kik, K-I-K. It is located in Canada. And also Ask.fm is in a foreign country. So it's very problematic for us to get that data from them. If, in fact, once we get through the red tape and the bureaucracy of that process, if there's anything there at all, they may not maintain that communication. But what we do have is that Facebook post that people sent to us.
But this investigation is not about one action that caused Rebecca to jump to her death. She was tormented for months and months and months, back to November of '12, not just online but in person at school.
YOUNG: Well, what about the parents' claim that they were never told that their 14-year-old daughter was a bully, over these - as you say, almost a year of the threat of bullying.
JUDD: Yeah. Robin, that's just absolutely ridiculous. See, therein lies the problem. They're in total denial. Oh, my child never bullied anybody. And we're going, are you kidding us? She's been in trouble. And there has been issues back to November of 2012, and you really are sitting here saying that to these television companies?
YOUNG: It's claimed that the 14-year-old threatened to fight Rebecca herself, told her to drink bleach and die. The younger girl, by the way, who you arrested showed remorse. And I believe you've released her in the custody of her parents?
JUDD: Well, you know, that's interesting, Robin, because the night of the arrest, the girls were charged with a third-degree felony. So when we take them to juvenile lockup, they do an assessment. Well, because it's a third degree felony, because there's no history, both of the children were released to the custody of their parents after our arrest with the instruction to come back to court the next morning.
They appear before a judge. He sees the conduct of the 12-year-old and her parents and how sorry and remorseful they are. He sends her home on, if you will, house detention. He looks at the other family and the 14-year-old and sees no responsibility at all. He puts her back in juvenile custody. So she's locked up today.
YOUNG: Well, I'm sure that made you feel a little bit vindicated. But what do you do now? I mean, when you announced the arrest, you named the girls. They're minors. You showed their pictures. Some people are saying you crossed the line. Tampa defense attorney Jeff Brown told the local Fox affiliate there that there may be an appropriate time to make them the example of what went on, but now is not that time. Now is the time to find out what went on. Let professionals look into this. You're obviously feeling very emotional and passionate about this, but are you worried that you are crossing a line to being not just sheriff but judge and jury?
JUDD: You know, I'm absolutely not crossing the line. Florida law says when anyone - to include a child - is arrested for a felony, that their picture and their name is public record. It doesn't say that the news media has to publish it.
YOUNG: Well, what do you want to see happen now? You've said that part of your astonishment is that after the parents and the 14-year-old knew that there was this investigation going on, why didn't they take away her social media, why wasn't, you know, why didn't they remove any possibility of her posting anything again? Are you thinking of charging the parents?
JUDD: At this point in the investigation, and I highlight that because we're not completed, we don't see criminal liability on behalf of the parents or I certainly would ask my detectives to criminally charge them. But here's the focus - and let me draw this in - these children are not charged with the death of Rebecca. They're charged with stalking. We think they contributed to her committing suicide.
Here's what we want to happen. We want to see that, one, they're held responsible for their conduct. I would like to see at least probation. I want to see that they can't be on social media. And as long as their behavior is corrected, they don't bully anymore, they don't commit any other crimes, and they don't come back into the criminal justice system, we're good with that.
YOUNG: It sounds like Rebecca Ann Sedwick touched a lot of people, climbing up there on that...
JUDD: She - yes.
YOUNG: ...concrete factory and jumping off. Sounds like she really hit a nerve with you.
JUDD: She did touch a nerve with me. You know, I have children, and I have nine grandchildren. And I was there that day. I was there when I saw that 12-year-old child, that baby, dead at the foot of that cement plant. It broke my heart. And if there's anything that I can do to make sure that that never happens to another child, not just in my county but across the state and across the nation and around the world, I want to do that.
Bullying shouldn't be a law enforcement issue. The first line of defense are the parents. The second line of defense are the friends and the neighbors. We don't want to get involved in policing bullying. But at the end of the day, if the parents don't do what they should, if the friends don't do what they should, they leave us no choice. When it becomes a crime, we have to become involved. And what I ask is leave us out of this thing. Fix the conduct before it becomes criminal.
YOUNG: That's Grady Judd, sheriff in Polk County, Florida, talking about the ongoing bullying suicide investigation there, which has resulted in the arrest of two girls, 14 and 12. Sheriff Judd, thank you.
JUDD: Thank you. Have a great day.
YOUNG: So what is the culpability of parents? Should children who are bullies be arrested or given help? We'd love your thoughts at hereandnow.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.