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In 2013, a 12-year-old girl from Polk County, Florida took her life by jumping off a tower at an abandoned factory. During the investigation, the sheriff learned that a former friend (K.C.R.) had bullied the teen repeatedly. Approximately a month later, the sheriff arrested K.C.R. in her home for aggravated stalking. He made a warrantless arrest.
The sheriff stated publicly and repeatedly that K.C.R. was in part responsible for the suicide of her former friend. This news created quite a stir. The arrested teen was subject to national press coverage.
Prosecutors ultimately dropped the charges. K.C.R. (through her mother), then filed a Fourth Amendment claim in 2015 against the sheriff who arrested her. She claimed the sheriff lacked probable cause to arrest her and lacked consent to enter her home to make a warrantless arrest, among others. The district court judge dismissed most claims. At trial, the only issue before the jury was whether the sheriff had permission to enter the home to make the warrantless arrest. The jury found that he did have consent.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the sheriff had probable cause to arrest the teen on charges of felony stalking. Florida's aggravated stalking law does not require the stalking to result in the victim's death. Whether the alleged bully contributed to her former friend's suicide was irrelevant. The teen disputed that she bullied her former friend or contributed in any way to her death, but that didn't mean the sheriff's suspicions of stalking under Florida law were objectively unreasonable.
The unanimous panel also held that the jury's verdict was not “against the clear weight of the evidence." The sheriff, when making the arrest, entered the porch area without knocking, but did knock on the front door. While the teen's father never gave verbal consent for police to enter, he did open the door and stand aside, which was enough for the jury to determine he gave consent.
Schools and parents are rightly focused on preventing bullying, violence, and suicide among children. But whether teens should be arrested for bullying is a controversial issue. With frequent school shootings and increased rates of teen suicide, law enforcement is much more likely to arrest minors who cross a line when it comes to bullying. For example, a middle-school girl in Kansas was recently arrested for pointing a “finger gun" at classmates when asked by a friend who she would like to kill.
As schools and law enforcement continue to attempt to reduce violence and suicide among teens, it is likely more lawsuits such as this one will occur.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
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