Bias Crime Charges Weighed After NJ Teen’s Suicide
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) – Bias-crime charges are possible against two Rutgers University students accused of secretly streaming online video of a sexual encounter between a man and a male classmate who later jumped off a bridge, prosecutors said Thursday.
The body of Tyler Clementi, 18, was identified Thursday after being found in the Hudson River a day before. His roommate, Dharun Ravi, and fellow Rutgers freshman Molly Wei, both 18, have been charged with invading his privacy.
Middlesex County prosecutors say that they used a webcam to surreptitiously transmit a live image of Clementi having sex Sept. 19 and that Ravi tried to webcast a second encounter on Sept. 21, the day before Clementi’s suicide.
“Now that two individuals have been charged with invasion of privacy, we will be making every effort to assess whether bias played a role in the incident, and, if so, we will bring appropriate charges,” prosecutor Bruce J. Kaplan said in a news release.
Collecting or viewing sexual images without consent is a fourth-degree crime, and transmitting them is a third-degree crime with a maximum prison term of five years. A lawyer for Ravi, of Plainsboro, did not return a message seeking comment, and it was unclear whether Wei, of Princeton, had a lawyer.
A lawyer for Clementi’s family has not responded to questions of whether Clementi was open about his sexual orientation. The suspects’ former classmates at West Windsor Plainsboro North High School remembered them both as good people who were not homophobic.
Derek Yan, 16, a junior and co-captain of the school’s Ultimate Frisbee team — a position Ravi held his senior year — said his friend had no problems with gay people.
“He had gay friends,” Yan told The Associated Press. Yan said that he had chatted online with Ravi about what college life was like and that Ravi liked Clementi, his roommate.
“He said he was lucky to have a good roommate,” Yan said. “He said his roommate was cool.”
Ravi’s parents even bought an ad in the pages of his senior yearbook expressing their admiration for his character and kindness.
“Dear Dharun, it has been a pleasure watching you grow into a caring and responsible person,” they wrote. “Dharun, we will always be there to love and support you every step of the way. Love, Mom, Dad and Jay.”
Clementi had just started at Rutgers, which bills itself as the state university of New Jersey, and was a talented violinist whose life revolved around music, friends and mentors said.
“Musically, Tyler was destined for greatness,” childhood friend Mary Alcaro, who played in a summer music academy with him, said Thursday in an e-mail to the AP. “I’ve never heard anyone make a violin sing the way he did.”
Ed Schmiedecke, the recently retired music director at Ridgewood High School, from which Clementi graduated this year, called Clementi “a terrific musician, and a very promising, hardworking young man.”
Clementi’s death also stirred outrage at his new school, even if he wasn’t very well known.
“The notion that video of Tyler doing what he was doing can be considered a spectacle is just heinous,” said Jordan Gochman, 19, of Jackson, who didn’t know Clementi. “It’s intolerant, it’s upsetting, it makes it seem that being gay is something that is wrong and can be considered laughable.”
Alcaro, who grew up with Clementi in Bergen County, west of New York City, said that “no person should have to endure such shame and humiliation.”
“I’m disillusioned that in a generation that prides itself on acceptance and tolerance, people can still be so closed-minded and downright hateful,” she said.
The suicide sent echoes throughout New Jersey, to the highest levels. Assemblywomen Valerie Vainieri Huttle, a Bergen Democrat, and Mary Pat Angelini, a Monmouth Republican, said they would introduce legislation to strengthen the state’s anti-bullying law.
Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, sent a warning to students who taunt or pull pranks on others.
“You don’t know the feelings of the people on the receiving end of that,” he said. “You can’t possibly know. There might be some people who could take that type of treatment and deal with it, and there might be others, as this young man obviously was, who are much more greatly affected by it.”
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