A New Jersey grand jury on April 25 returned an indictment against a Rutgers University student who used his webcam to stream video of his roommate kissing another man. The broadcast of the romantic relationship allegedly drove freshman Tyler Clementi to commit suicide.
Days after roommate Dharun Ravi broadcast the encounter between Clementi, 18, and a man identified in court papers only as “M.B.,” Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge. It was the start of the 2010-11 school year, when more than a dozen boys and young men committed suicide after being bullied and harassed.
Ravi and another student were arrested for invasion of privacy for turning a web camera on Clementi’s bed and then boasting via Twitter about cybercasting another possible same-sex encounter.
One of Ravi’s Twitter messages said, “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”
A couple of days later, he tweeted, “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again.”
About a month earlier, Ravi had tweeted, “Found out my roommate is gay.”
Clementi also used social media tools. After learning about the webcam, he posted on Facebook, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”
The grand jury, in its 15-count indictment, alleges that the 19-year-old Ravi committed hate crimes that could result in 10-year prison sentences if convicted.
“The grand jury charged that the invasion of privacy and attempt to invade the privacy of T.C. and M.B. were intended to intimidate them because of their sexual orientation,” read a statement from the Middlesex County, N.J., prosecutor’s office.
The indictment also accuses Ravi of a cover-up, of tampering with evidence.
The prosecutor maintains that Ravi deleted a Twitter post alerting other students to watch a second encounter involving Clementi and “M.B.” and then created a replacement post intended to mislead investigators.
Further, according to the prosecutor, Ravi encouraged witnesses not to testify.
Clementi’s parents, in a joint statement, said, “The grand jury indictment spells out cold and calculated acts against our son Tyler by his former college roommate. If these facts are true, as they appear to be, then it is important for our criminal justice system to establish clear accountability under the law.”
New Jersey Attorney General Paula T. Dow said the indictment was “an important step in this heartbreaking case.”
Since Clementi’s suicide, a number of developments have taken place in New Jersey and at the national level to protect students from anti-gay bullying and harassment. New Jersey lawmakers enacted a broad anti-bullying law, a measure considered the strongest in the nation. The White House convened a conference on bullying, and the U.S. Education Department has initiated several programs and policies to counter bullying.