Grace Under Pressure: Bullied Teen Christian Stanfield Fights Back

By Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor

Author’s Note: Grace Under Pressure is an ongoing series of posts honoring everyday people who courageously make positive differences in their own lives and consequently in the lives of others. It is my own personal affirmation that unexpected heroes live among us and that their service is quiet but unshakable proof that virtue really is its own reward  – and ours, too.

christian-stanfieldA Pittsburgh area teen thought he was doing the right thing to end his bullying but his audio recording of the abuse only resulted in criminal charges for wiretapping. Sophomore Christian Stanfield had endured a miserable school year at the hands of  two classmates who tripped, shoved and even attempted to burn the 15-year-old with a cigarette lighter. Pleas for help to his teacher went unheeded for the teenager who suffers from comprehension delay disorder ( a brain disorder involving slower processing speed for information than is normal) ADHD, and an anxiety disorder. So last month Christian decided to get the proof he needed to make school officials listen. Sitting in his math class, he activated his Ipad as his tormentors launched another verbal fusillade. “”They were talking about pulling his pants down, and some things I can’t repeat, and laughing and cutting up like it was a big joke, it was not a joke, not at all funny,”  said Christian’s mother, Shea Love, who heard the recording at her kitchen table that afternoon.

Ms Love was being generous with her words. The actual recording allegedly contained sexual references and demeaning language. With a teacher helping Christian with a math problem one of his bullys is overheard on the tape saying, ““You should pull his pants down!” Another student replies, “No, man. Imagine how bad that (c**t) smells! No one wants to smell that (t**t).” Then, a loud noise is heard—the sound of book being slammed down next to Love’s son after a student feigned hitting him in the head with it. The teacher screams. Laughter follows.

Ms. Love and her son transcribed the audio and then called the principal’s office the following morning to demand some action amid deflections that the school’s hands were tied because the teen had no proof of his abuse. (I guess the teacher missed what was happening directly in front of her.) Principal Scott Milburn told Shea he was going to do something and Shea sent her son to school for the expected remediation. Instead of anger at the perpetrators after confirmation of their bullying,  Principal Milburn summoned South Fayette Township Police Lieutenant Robert Kurta to the school to interrogate her son in the presence of the associate principal and the dean of students. With his mother now at work, the four male authority figures threatened to charge the special needs teen with felony wiretap unless he erased the recording. Bullied again, Christian complied and was then told he would be receiving a break – only a misdemeanor charge.

In a rambling decision District Judge Maureen McGraw-Desmet found Christian guilty of disorderly conduct .“Normally, if there is — I certainly have a big problem with any kind of bullying at school. But normally, you know, I would expect a parent would let the school know about it, because it’s not tolerated. I know that, and that you guys [school administrators] would handle that, you know. To go to this extreme, you know, it was the only alternative or something like that, but you weren’t made aware of that and that was kind of what I was curious about. Because it’s not tolerated, but you need to go through — let the school handle it. And I know from experience with South Fayette School that, you know, it always is. And if there is a problem and it continues, then it is usually brought in front of me.”  Huh?

Christian and his lawyer had had quite enough of  this Pennsylvania justice and appealed the conviction.

Attorney Jonathan Steele took the case saying what happened here was no crime at all and contending Christian attempts to fight back did not trigger the anti-wiretapping laws. In a remark that should top every school discipline handbook, Steele added, “The lesson is zero tolerance doesn’t necessarily mean zero common sense.” After discussions with another reasonable man, District Attorney Stephen Zappala, the charges were dismissed at the appeal hearing.

Mike Manko, a spokesman for Zappala, said Judge Robert Gallo signed the order Thursday to withdraw the citation against the teen.”No one in our office who is authorized to give advice on wiretap issues or school conduct issues was ever contacted in this matter. We have made multiple attempts to contact the officer who wrote the citation and (the) results have been unsuccessful,” Manko said in a written statement. “We do not believe this behavior rises to the level of a citation.”

Christian has returned to school but no discipline has yet been handed down to his tormentors or the look-the-other-way teacher. No evidence exists you see. School Principal Milburn remains at his seat but his chair is getting hotter. Lawyer Steele promises that the case is not over and the hubbub has caught the ear of more enlightened government officials. The U.S. Office of Civil Rights has been contacted and an investigation is in the offing.

South Fayette Township School District Superintendent Bille Rondinelli declined to comment. That’s about the only  thing the school district has got right in this case.

Source: WTAE; PINAC; The Foundry 

Kudos and thanks to my brother-in-law Mark Daley of Uniontown, PA for bringing this story to my attention.

~Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor


100 thoughts on “Grace Under Pressure: Bullied Teen Christian Stanfield Fights Back”

  1. That judge is an idiot. Someone please mail her a printed version of this article and the comments. If someone could provide her address then I will do it. She is not fit to be on the bench, near the bench or to hang up a shingle.

  2. Schools are incapable of doing anything about bullying because the bully corps is actually a part of the school authority hierarchy.

    The function of the bullies is to enforce conformity to standard beliefs. They do this by making life miserable for those whom they identify as different. Those whose difference is not something that can be behavior modified away such as cripples and retards have a problem, their only hope is to recruit assistance from teachers, but this does not work because the teachers approve of what the bullies are doing and despise children who do not take their bullying like a man.

    I have no doubt that the teacher saw the bullying and chose to do nothing and that the teacher, the principal and the superintendent were enraged by the recording demonstrating this.

  3. The Obama administration w/ their attack of all whistleblowers have made “Attacking the Messenger” part of our domestic and foreign policy.

  4. Darren,
    The idea of attacking the messenger reminds me of the sexual harassment and assault problem in the military.

  5. There are two elements here for me:

    1) It seems to me the school doesn’t want to admit there is a bullying problem and is ignoring it. But, when it comes up it has been my experience that these type of people (the school officials here) attack the messenger because to them he is the threat. The bullies are not a threat to the administrators, but the knowledge they exist and are pandered is the worry. The boy was the threat to the administrators because he was viewed as exposing their effective support of the bullying.

    2) There needs to be a legislative fix in what I had read in the law. There is an exception where someone can record when a crime of violence is afoot. The problem for most people is that lesser issues such as threats, harassment or most misdemeanors committed against the recorder do not fall into this exception which they shood. The exception in the law should be lowered to crimes, violations of protective orders, threats, and possibly (as it is in my state) blackmail or coercion.

    The school certainly shows no discretion whatever in this case. But it seems to me they were somewhat guilty of intimidating a witness because the boy was trying to record harassment to show the case to what he perceived to be the authorities and the school initiated a criminal prosecution against him in doing so.

  6. feynman,
    Thanks, no personal flaws, maybe we all need to step back on occasion.

  7. Anon,

    I understand your annoyance and I am sorry for being the cause. Good lord willing, it should never happen again!

  8. raff,

    Found your comment. Thanks for the feedback. In 99.9% cases, I agree that one should just ignore it. That’s exactly what I should have done that night.
    And intend to do that in the future. But in that case I felt I had to handle it.

    Also, I wasn’t sure if there were moderators. Sometimes it seemed as though there might be, especially when Prof Turley began to comment within a thread. Something happened/changed then.

    I realize this has been disruptive and you and all readers have my sincere apologies. But I felt deeply offended, so much so that I was willing to risk being banned and annoying a lot of people.

    And it probably reveals a personal flaw, but I feel vindicated. And I hope we won’t ever see those two horrible racial epithets appear ever again. I’m never going to sit silently while the “PC police” charge is being employed.

    Again, sorry everybody for the disruption.

  9. Paul are you conflating experience with authority?? I don’t have any authority to make you believe what I say when I relate an experience I had as a nurse. I never made any claim that I had any such authority. I expect intelligent people to do their own research if they find what I say erroneous.

    1. Annie – and just yesterday you well telling us about your expertise on colonoscopies.

  10. Well Annie, maybe Nick does have an in with the professor, after all, he was certain how Jonathan and he would react, he even made a wager about it.

  11. Paul,

    Are you a shill for the Kock Brothers? The AFP? Any alliances with them.

    I am not sure what you mean about a twin. But you can be rude and insulting, that just my opinion.

  12. Annie – I will remember that when you bring up your nursing background to make some point.

  13. Giovanna – I can tell you from experience that even the most experienced teacher is not always aware of what is going on in their classroom. I found out by accident (overhearing) that a student had done a line of coke in another teacher’s classroom, during class, she had no idea. I had things happen in my classroom that I only heard about years later from students. Which they had told me sooner because I could have done something about it.
    That being said, I think the teacher was negligent and the principal was covering for the teacher, himself and the school district. I just hope they can recover the audio.

  14. As a retired teacher and administrator, this is appalling to me. Christian is vulnerable and these bullies know it, so being the spineless scum that they are, they pick on this boy. I don’t know why the teacher is so dense as to what is taking place in the classroom–she is either afraid of the bullies, or preoccupied, or ignores all confrontation, like so many I’ve known.
    The principal is also avoiding confrontation to save his/her own posterior, plus complaints to the district office would be a black mark on the principal.
    This is shameful and it’s happening all over the country.
    That is one reason why I retired.
    I pray that this experience will not traumatize Christian, however, I’m afraid it already has.

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