Bullied Teen “Wiretapper” Fights Back

Apr 16, 2014 at 12:50 PM ET

Shea Love describes her son, a 15-year-old special-needs student, as “a very moral person” who sees the world in black and white.

“He’s always been very vocal about right and wrong, so this has been especially devastating,” she tells Vocativ. “I tried to tell the officer how much this would hurt him.”

Last month, her son Christian Stanfield, a sophomore at Pennsylvania’s South Fayette High School, was charged with disorderly conduct for recording other students bullying him on his iPad Mini. As we reported late last week, Stanfield claims to have been a victim of ongoing abuse and says he wanted to use the tape to prove it to his mother. Distressed by the invective leveled at her son, Love felt compelled to contact the dean. But instead of helping Stanfield, school administrators called the police and threatened him with felony wiretapping charges, which were later reduced.

Stanfield, who has been diagnosed with ADD, anxiety disorder and comprehension delay disorder, has not taken his conviction well.

“I feel sick,” he says, speaking over the phone.

According to his mother, the ruling has been eating away at him. In the weeks afterwards, he cried for days at a time. “He kept saying he was sorry, that he didn’t mean to get anyone in trouble, and that he was just trying to get help,” says Love. He also lost weight and began having nightmares, on top of stomachaches and headaches. “He’s been going around calling himself a criminal,” she says. “Because that is what they called him.”

As Stanfield describes it, “That’s really what I felt like. I felt like I had done something really wrong, and I didn’t even know what it was.”

Despite the bullying, he hadn’t missed a single day of school before the incident. But in the past eight weeks, he’s missed eight.

“He’s terrified to go,” Love says. “I’m furious. I want people fired, but he keeps telling me, ‘Mom, having someone fired is not going to change anything. You have to educate people and have compassion in order for things to change.”’

After the media picked up Stanfield’s story over the weekend, hundreds of special needs children and their parents have offered their support, and one group has even started a letter-writing campaign targeting the local judge. Stanfield and his mother have appealed the ruling and will reappear in court on April 29, where they will likely be met by a crowd of impassioned parent-advocates who have been organizing a rally outside the courthouse doors.

“I welcome anyone who wants to show up,” Love says. “I want him to know that people care about him.”

Stanfield is overwhelmed by the community’s response. “It’s been really amazing,” he says. “It gave me strength when I really needed it.” He hopes to use the attention to get Pennsylvania’s wiretapping statute, which requires two-party consent for recording, struck down. He would also like his charges overturned, and of course, a simple apology.

“If I don’t stand up for myself,” he says, “how are others going to stand up for themselves?”

Love says she now sees her son’s story through the larger lens of the national debate over zero-tolerance policies in schools. The concept gained popular support in the mid-’90s as a way to keep guns out of the classroom, but it has since evolved to the point where children who break the law are automatically sent to police precincts instead of principals’ offices, despite the nuances of their individual crime. “This is a much bigger problem than just my child or Pennsylvania,” she says. “We have these laws for the purpose of protecting our children, but we get so aggressive with them that zero tolerance becomes zero common sense.”

This is Stanfield’s first year at South Fayette High School, which is a big step for any kid, regardless of cognitive ability. Following his conviction, administrators decided to have him retested to see if he is eligible for a special needs school nearby, though it’s unclear whether their motivation is to help him or just sweep him under someone else’s rug. Currently, Stanfield takes a special-ed class only for math, but his disability, as one would expect, affects every aspect of his life.

“If normal people’s processing speeds are around one hundred, then his are around thirteen,” Love says. This means it takes him longer to do everything—from getting dressed, to walking, to learning basic concepts—than it would the average person.

“He is slow. He does everything slow. He doesn’t eat in the lunchroom because he is terrified of the other kids,” says Love. “He’s never really had a friend. He knows that he’s different, and he has a hard time dealing with it.”

According to Stanfield, whose favorite class happens to be civics, his intention was never to post the recording to YouTube or share it in a public forum. “I was hurt, and I needed help, and I felt like that was the only way to get it,” he says.”I never thought that [the school’s] first response to me asking them for support would be to call law enforcement on me.”

When Stanfield was caught, he became the subject to a two-hour interrogation by police and school administrators, which left him terrified. During the court hearing, the officer on the scene admitted that he never investigated, let alone listened to Stanfield’s recording, which was conveniently deleted prior to the court proceedings. Even so, he testified that he believed “that [Stanfield] committed a crime” and that “he should in some way answer for it.”

According to Love, both the officer and the magistrate also tried to coax her son into saying that he was going to use the recording to get his teacher in trouble, which is a well-documented concern among school officials and teachers groups.

With the support of other bullied students and sympathetic parents, Stanfield thinks he’ll be better prepared for his second chance at the appeals hearing later this month. But he’s still feeling the pressure.

“I am scared out of my mind,” he says. “It’s so important to me. I feel like it’s not just my court case. It’s for everyone who has ever been bullied or mistreated by a school. I really hope people show up.”