A Cup of Joe | Should a 16-Year-Old Cyber-Terrorist be Punished as an Adult?

This week we go up to Hamburg, New York, way over in Erie County, near Buffalo. Just an under 7 hour-drive northwest from our office at 950 Third Avenue in Manhattan, and a 2 ½ hour drive west from The Bleu Monkey in Syracuse.

The Seaway Trail, a National Scenic Byway, travels through Hamburg along the Lake Erie shoreline. The 1885 Erie County Fair, or “Hamburg Fair” is where the hamburger was invented by Frank and Charles Menches, who created a sandwich made of grilled ground beef, coffee, brown sugar and other ingredients, and sold with ketchup and sliced onions. They named the “Hamburger” after the fair. (Unrelated: The “Veggie Burger” first appeared on a menu in an infernal locale where there is eternal suffering and has a much hotter temperature than upstate).


BACKGROUND: Frontier Central High School. 1,500 students ranging from 9th-12th grade. Team name: “Falcons.”

NFL center, David Vincent Wohlabaugh attended Frontier and then played center for Otto’s Army at Syracuse. After that, he played 9 seasons in the NFL and started in Super Bowl XXXI for the New England Patriots.  In 1999 (with the Browns), at $26.25 million, he was the highest paid Center in NFL history.

Frontier’s School motto: “Responsible to be Accountable.

TIME: Present school year.  It was a Monday morning. A 16-year-old student had hacked into the school’s email system and sent out threats to harm other students at Frontier. The school was put on lockdown. An investigation followed and the student was arrested


LAW YOU NEED TO KNOW:

Adolescent Offender (AO) is a new category created by the Raise the Age legislation. AOs are 16- or 17-years-olds that commit a felony-level crime. These kids have their cases heard in the Family Court, unless the prosecutor can show that “extraordinary circumstances” are present. In that case, the kid will remain in criminal court and face the prospect of jail time. 


ENTER: Krystal Ashe, 16, student at Frontier; Richard Hughes, school superintendent (and father of 4 children).


 THE HEARING TO DETERMINE WHETHER KRYSTAL SHOULD REMAIN IN CRIMINAL COURT

Testimony of Superintendent Hughes:

Q: Mr. Hughes, tell us what happened on Monday.

A: This whole process basically started with an email at 8:30 a.m., which mentioned that within an hour there was going to be a shooting. A short time later, another message appeared, this time from a different email address. The e-mail said “the clock is ticking.”

Q: What was the school’s response?

A: We worried that that our email system may have been hacked. So the school then changed its email system and all of the student accounts were reset.

Q: And then what happened?

A: That caused a response via a third separate email account. This told us that it was most likely a student inside of the building. When the third email was received, the school was instructed to go to a hold-in-place, which restricted the movement of students within the classroom.

Q: Did the emails stop?

A: No. During that time, a few other emails were sent, each of which was taunting in nature and one that said “you haven’t found me yet.” From there, Frontier went into full lockdown mode for precautionary measures. There were eight officers on sight, and they were armed with rifles.

Q: Did the school do anything else?

A: Yes. Students were then escorted out of the building wing by wing without being allowed to go to their lockers or gather personal belongings. Canines were brought over to conduct a full sweep, but the dogs didn’t pick up anything that was explosive in nature, so at that time, it appeared that the threats weren’t credible.

Q: Where you able to track down the origin of the threatening emails?

A: Yes. The school’s tech team worked with the Hamburg Police Department to try and locate the source of the emails, and they discovered that all of the emails were coming from the same IP address, and the address was pinging on to their network. That work led the team to the student.

Q: Did the school press charges?

A: Of course. Krystal was arrested and is now facing seven counts of aggravated harassment, six counts of computer trespass with intent to commit a felony and one count of making a terrorist threat. This was a very bad decision on Krystal’s part.


KRYSTAL’S TESTIMONY:

Q: What is your date of birth?

A: May 26.  I am sixteen years old.

Q: Can you tell us why you are here?

A: I was very stupid. I was being bullied by classmates. I wanted to get back at them. I thought I would just get the school to allow me to attend a different school. So I made up a plan.

Q: A plan involving the emails?

A: Yes.

Q: But you must have known that the emails would have scared the students who were not bullying you, right?

A: Like I said, I was stupid.

Q: You were at school during the lockdown?

A: Yeah, I was there.

Q: And you saw the emotional trauma and negative affect your behavior was having on many of the students and school personnel?

A: Yeah. I guess I didn’t think it through. But I am understanding things better now that I am in therapy.

Q: Did you tell your parents that you wanted to change schools?

A: Yes. My mother and I talked about my desire to leave the school. She said no.


ARGUMENT BY KRYSTAL’s LAWYER:

Your Honor, this is a case that cries out to be sent to family court for resolution. Krystal is only 16; no real threat existed; she is in therapy and doing very well; and, she has not been in trouble before or after this incident. The People are obligated to show that these are extraordinary circumstances and that Krystal is not amenable to treatment. They can do neither. Please, Your Honor, do not let this child fall through the cracks of the system. 


ARGUMENT BY THE PROSECUTOR:

Your Honor, the circumstances are by their very nature extraordinary. Krystal carefully potted to execute her plan. She hacked in to email accounts and made threats to do harm from those accounts. Even when confronted by school administration, Krystal continued her course of conduct that ultimately caused people to suffer. She coldly participated in the mandatory lockdown while being aware that her actions would bring fear and intimidation to innocent people. Your Honor, this case belongs in criminal court.


JUDGE’S RULING:

The Court agrees with the People that Krystal’s behavior was not indicative of a child who was being “very stupid” as she testified. It is more akin to the behavior of a person who is calculating and lacks concern for the negative and harmful impact the behavior would have on innocent people.

However, it is clearly the legislative intent is to remove children from criminal prosecution whenever possible and to rehabilitate them when they are amenable to treatment. Krystal is a child who has shown a willingness to comply with probation services after voluntarily submitting to a mental health evaluation and risk assessment.

The Court concluded that Krsytal’s case will stay in family court and she will not be tried as an adult.

See you next week.


Here is the case:

http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2019/2019_51920.htm

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