April 21, 2011 / 7:52 PM / 8 years ago

Hate crime case about decency in Internet age: Clementi lawyer

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The hate-crime indictment of a former Rutgers University student accused of using the Internet to spy on his roommate, who later committed suicide, is a harsh lesson about human decency in the Internet age, the grieving family’s lawyer said on Thursday.

“The criminal case is about the line between acceptable conduct and unacceptable conduct... particularly in this era of electronic media,” Paul Mainardi, attorney for the family of Tyler Clementi, told Reuters.

“There is no criminal charge that the roommate’s acts caused Tyler’s suicide,” Mainardi said.

A grand jury this week indicted Dharun Ravi, 19, of Plainsboro, New Jersey on charges of invasion of privacy, bias and evidence tampering.

Ravi had already been charged with invasion of privacy, typically punished by probation, but when the grand jury ramped up the charge to a bias crime, the possible penalty increased to 5 to 10 years in prison if convicted on the charges.

Clementi, 18, leaped off the George Washington Bridge after Ravi and another student, Molly Wei, 19, of West Windsor, used a webcam in their dormitory room to spy on him during a romantic encounter with a man. They streamed the video live online and advertised it on Twitter.

Clementi’s death has received massive national attention with prominent figures ranging from President Barack Obama to talk show host Ellen Degeneres denouncing bullying.

After the tragedy, Garden State Equality successfully pushed New Jersey to implement anti-bullying laws that are now “the toughest in the nation,” said Steven Goldstein, chairman of the gay rights group.

The new law calls for implementing anti-bullying specialists at all schools in the state and streamlining the process to report cases of bullying.

By strengthening the criminal charges against Ravi, the grand jury sent a powerful message to bullies everywhere, Goldstein said.

“The indictment will send an appropriate chilling effect to every student who might think of bullying another student,” Goldstein said.

Meanwhile, the Clementi family is talking with Rutgers about “a possible agreement” in the case, Mainardi said. The family has notified the university of its right to sue the school, but is not actively planning to do so at this time.

The university declined to comment on what the discussions or agreement is about.

Ravi’s attorney this week has not responded to several requests for comment by Reuters.

Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune

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