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Girls face harassment charges after fight filmed, posted online

By The Associated Press
12.23.06

TRENTON, N.J. — Not only was a teenage girl the victim of a planned attack outside the South Brunswick High School gym, but the attacker also arranged to have it recorded and put on the Internet for the world, and her classmates, to see, authorities say.

South Brunswick police say not only was the attack a crime, so was putting it on various video-sharing Web sites. As a result, authorities have charged two teenage girls with harassment. One was already facing an assault charge for allegedly starting the fight.

Police said the girls, ages 14 and 16, staged the attack, then used the video of it to repeatedly harass their victim, whose age was not released.

The names of the girls charged were withheld by police because they are minors.

South Brunswick Detective Jim Ryan said police were notified about the Dec. 11 incident by the parents of the girl who was assaulted when they saw video of the fight on the Web.

"It was brutal," Ryan said of the video, which was described to him by another officer. "Luckily the female victim only received minor injuries."

Ryan said the 16-year-old who started the fight was charged with assault and with harassment. A week later the 14-year-old who filmed it using her cell phone was charged with harassment and with "possessing a remotely activated recording device on schools grounds."

"She e-mailed it to numerous other friends, then posted it on everything from YouTube to Google video to MySpace," Ryan said.

Police said all three Web-sharing providers were cooperative in taking down the video, but that it had reappeared several times.

Ryan said that using a cell phone on school grounds without the permission of school officials is technically a crime. However, he said police only recommend charging someone with the statute when the cell phone is used to commit a crime, such as harassment.

Media experts worry that the charges against the girls for distributing images of the fight could be used to stem legitimate citizen journalism.

It could have implications for media organizations that film something on the street or publish or broadcast images submitted by people with cell phones, said Guy Baehr, assistant director of Rutgers University's Journalism Resources Institute.

"It just seems like kind of a stretch," he said. "If you follow that reasoning, you could infringe on a person's First Amendment rights."

A call to South Brunswick High School Principal Timothy Matheney was not returned in time for this story.

The case is being prosecuted by Middlesex County.


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Administrators say blog postings can be disruptive to education; critics say schools shouldn't be able to punish kids for comments posted off-campus. 10.02.06

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When students 'cross the line' online

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