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2 Teens Cleared in Fla. Cyberbullying Case

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

After an extensive investigation, Florida prosecutors dropped all charges against the two girls involved in a tragic Florida cyberbullying case. The case, which gained national media attention, revolved around the death of 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick, who jumped from a cement plant tower in September.

The Polk County state attorney's office dropped the charges of aggravated stalking against the girls, ages 12 and 14.

With the two cleared of any wrongdoing, will the girls now turn the legal tables on the Polk County Sheriff's Office?

Qualified Immunity

According to The New York Times, the family of Katelyn Roman, the 12-year-old who recently turned 13, is now considering filing a lawsuit against the sheriff's office. But police officers are covered by qualified immunity, making the case difficult.

Qualified immunity shields public officials from damages for civil liability if they did not violate an individual's "clearly established" statutory or constitutional rights. It's meant to allow officers to do their job without fear of being sued whenever a suspect gets injured.

Giving the family a smidgen of hope, this immunity does have its limits.

Intentional Violations

Even while acting in the scope of their employment, officers can still be sued for intentionally violating a person's constitutional rights. Qualified immunity requires that an official act was undertaken in good faith and with due care.

Here, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd arrested the girls after the 14-year-old posted to Facebook: "[y]es, I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself and I don't give a [expletive]."

But Roman's attorney, Jose Baez (who also represented Casey Anthony), claims Judd scapegoated the girls to look like a hero and put a spotlight on cyberbullying, reports the Times.

If Judd intentionally arrested the girls without probable cause, he could be in trouble. But if the arrests were made in good faith and with due care, he should be in the legal clear.

The Romans and Baez believe Judd mishandled the case when he released the names of photographs of the girls to the public. But under Florida law, law enforcement officials are allowed to release the names and photographs of juveniles charged with felonies.

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