District attorney dropping charges against South Fayette student
Close friends and classmates, as well as people who didn’t know Christian Stanfield, were on hand for a celebratory gathering Tuesday evening at Bubba’s Burgers in South Fayette Township.
They were celebrating the dismissal of charges against the 15-year-old South Fayette High School sophomore, who was found guilty of the summary offense of disorderly conduct by District Judge Maureen McGraw-Desmet March 19.
The conviction stems from a Feb. 11 incident at South Fayette High School in which Stanfield’s mother, Shea Love, said her son used his iPad to record two students bullying him during math class.
It was announced Tuesday the charges against Stanfield of which he was convicted in magisterial court are being dropped by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office. He had appealed the conviction and was expected to go before an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge April 29. That hearing will no longer happen.
On Feb. 12, Love said she was called to the school after administrators learned of the recording, where high school principal Scott Milburn told her Stanfield committed wiretapping. Stanfield said Milburn made him delete the recording. Also present was South Fayette police Lt. Robert Kurta, who charged Stanfield with disorderly conduct.
On March 19, Stanfield was found guilty and ordered to pay fines and court costs. Love said, during the hearing, Kurta admitted to never hearing the audio and just went on the word of the principal.
Love, who heard the recording, said one boy said to the other, ‘Hey man, you should pull his pants down.’” After several other comments from the boys, the teacher said that if what they were talking about didn’t have to do with math, then they should not be talking.
Justin Steele, attorney for Stanfield, said it was not Stanfield’s intent to get the other students or the teacher in trouble.
“He said, ‘I just wanted the bullying to stop,’” Steele said. “This kid is the nicest kid you’d ever want to meet.”
“I got word today that the charges are going to be dismissed,” Love said Tuesday. “It was the best news we’ve had in a long time. This is the first day I felt like I could really smile and mean it.”
“No one in our office who was authorized to give advice on wiretap issues or school conduct issues was ever contacted in this matter,” Mike Manko, a spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., said in a statement. “We have made multiple attempts to contact the officer who wrote the citation. Those attempts have been unsuccessful. It is our intention to withdraw the citation on April 29 because we do not believe his conduct rises to the level of a citation.”
Although the district attorney’s office did not approve of the initial charge against Stanfield, it became involved because the citation was appealed to the Court of Common Pleas.
Love said she “got so discouraged” when the magistrate said her son was guilty of disorderly conduct for recording the alleged bullying. However, she added the South Fayette community has been “amazing.”
“I could not have been happier,” Stanfield said about the charges being dropped. He added he said he wants to start a nonprofit organization to make people more aware of bullying.
“The goal is to bring awareness to the bullying problem not only in South Fayette but across the country,” Steele said.
“It’s for every kid that’s ever been wronged by bullying,” Stanfield added.
Hunter Boyd, a 14-year-old freshman at Chartiers Valley High School, attended the gathering Tuesday. She didn’t know Stanfield personally until she met him that evening; however, she said she has been following his story. Boyd said she used to attend South Fayette but transferred because she was being bullied.
“It’s not just him, and it’s not just at the high school,” Boyd said, adding that bullying is just as bad if not worse at South Fayette Middle School. “A lot of people get bullied there. The middle school needs a lot more attention,” she said.
State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil Township, who represents South Fayette Township, is working on a bill that would create an exception to the current wiretapping laws in Pennsylvania.
“It is called Christian’s Law,” White said.
White said the law would enable anyone being bullied or witnessing bullying on school grounds to record it lawfully.
“It’s focusing on the issue, not the incident,” White said.
According to Steele, the family is pursuing a civil suit against South Fayette School District.
Prior to attending South Fayette High School, Stanfield was enrolled in cyberschool. Before that, the family lived out of state.
“They came here (to the Pittsburgh area) because people told them the school systems were great,” Steele said.
Steele added the incident in February was not the first time Stanfield had been bullied. “There are reports dating back to September or October 2013,” he said.
Dr. Bille Rondinelli, school district superintendent, said, “This is a student matter which precludes the district from discussing it. This is not something that can and should be discussed in media.”
The school district does have an anti-bullying policy.
Steele responded to the school district’s news release, which stated: “The South Fayette Township School District wishes to address recent reports in the local and national media concerning a student of the South Fayette Township School District. It is to be noted that certain information being disseminated by the media is inaccurate and/or incomplete. The school district is legally precluded from commenting specifically in regard to these reports as the issue involves a confidential student matter.”
Steele said, “It’s good they made a statement. I’m not sure of what they mean by inaccurate reports. I think we’re all in agreement this wasn’t handled appropriately.”
Kurta and McGraw-Desmet declined to comment.