The arrest of a 14-year-old Britton Middle School student on suspicion of bullying last week was not the first such incident in Morgan Hill, and police and school officials say that such behavior can lead to long-term serious problems for students and thus will not be tolerated.
The suspect, a male, allegedly used text messages and social media postings to continually harass two 13-year-old male classmates, even after police warned him to stop, according to Morgan Hill police Sgt. Troy Hoefling. He was cited for a number of criminal violations, and has been disciplined by school officials.
Police began an investigation against the suspect when the two victims reported the suspect fired an Air-Soft gun at them at the apartment complex where all three live, Hoefling said.
Police learned the suspect had threatened the victims and assaulted them electronically – an offense known as “cyber-bullying,” Hoefling said. Cyber-bullying is defined by authorities as any action or actions “that use information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behavior by an individual or group that is intended to harm another or others.”
The city’s school resource officer contacted the victims and suspect at school, Hoefling said. The suspect was told not to have any more contact or initiate any further communication with the victims.
The suspect told police he would cooperate, but later that same day officers learned the suspect had threatened one of the victims in person after school at the Centennial Recreation Center skate park, police said. The suspect then sent more intimidating text messages and Facebook postings to both victims.
The suspect allegedly called the victims a “snitch” and other names, and continued to threaten to harm them physically for reporting the crimes to police, Hoefling said.
The school resource officer again contacted the victims and suspect and their parents, and this time cited the suspect, Hoefling said.
The suspect was cited on suspicion of battery (for shooting the victims with an Air-Soft gun), making harassing phone calls, disturbing the peace with offensive words likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction, and a municipal code violation for discharging a weapon within the city limits, police said. The student also faces disciplinary consequences at school.
Authorities did not release the suspect’s name because he is a juvenile.
Morgan Hill Police and the Morgan Hill Unified School District staff vow to continue to work together to combat bullying both in person and through electronic means. Police noted that bullying can lead to ongoing or serious problems for the victims, such as loss of self-esteem, loss of self-worth and bad grades. Plus, if left unchecked, the suspects might commit more serious crimes.
“The Morgan Hill Police Department recognizes the immediate and long-term damage caused by bullying and will not tolerate this behavior,” Chief David Swing said. “I am proud of the swift and decisive actions of our staff that put an end to these students’ victimization.”
Police and school officials also encourage all victims of bullying to report the suspect or suspects to a teacher or other responsible adult.
Britton Middle School Principal Glen Webb added, “It is our intention and priority to collaborate with law enforcement in the interest of student safety. This case is a fine example of mixed jurisdictional cooperation. Acts perpetrated outside of school hours including confrontations and electronic communications that have an effect of creating a hostile or intimidating environment within the school can result in students facing both criminal and school consequences.”
Webb declined to say exactly how the school district disciplined the suspect. The student was disciplined under California Education Code section 48900, which allows the district superintendent or school principal to suspend a student or recommend him for expulsion for a number of reasons, including threatening physical injury and “engag(ing) in an act of bullying.”
Hoefling added that MHPD makes similar arrests for bullying “a couple times a year.” Cyber-bullying in particular is more noticeable to police and parents because the suspect leaves a clear record of the offensive behavior.
The offenses for which the Britton student was cited are all criminal misdemeanors, Hoefling said.
“Cyber-bullying is a problem nationwide,” Webb added. He noted that because school administrators, teachers and parents have become more aware of the trend, bullying incidents on campus seem to be declining.
However, that doesn’t always stop kids from bullying others off campus and on the weekend, which is where and when most of the criminal behavior in last week’s case occurred, Webb said.