Clementi Roommate Faces 15 Counts, Including Bias Charges
The roommate of the Rutgers student who leapt to his death from the George Washington Bridge last September faces 15 counts in connection with the suicide, including a charge of bias intimidation, the Associated Press reported on April 20.
Dharun Ravi, 19, already stood accused of two counts of invasion of privacy and two further counts of attempted invasion of privacy for allegedly having used a webcam to spy on Tyler Clementi and another man. The two were reportedly engaged in a sexual encounter when they were observed via webcam without their knowledge.
Clementi later disabled the webcam prior to a second encounter in the room he shared with Ravi. But shortly after the incident, he left a brief suicide note on his Facebook page and went to the George Washington Bridge, which connects Manhattan to New Jersey. Clementi leapt from the bridge to the Hudson River below, and was killed.
The tragedy came in the wake of a rash of suicides around the country by GLBT youths and straight youths who had been bullied for being gay even though they were not.
Ravi and another student, Molly Wei, were charged with invading Clementi’s privacy. Wei was not named in the indictments handed down by the grand jury in the case, the AP article said. "The indictment charges Ravi with bias, invasion of privacy, witness and evidence tampering, and other charges stemming from the suicide of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi in September," the AP story said.
As previously reported at EDGE, Clementi may have been seeking help just before his suicide.
Postings begun on Sept. 21 at JustUsBoys.com seem to describe a situation very similar to the one 18-year-old Tyler Clementi faced in the final days of his life. The posting talks about how the author’s college roommate was trying to record his activities using a web cam, and describes having asked for the exclusive use of the shared dormitory room on a Sunday night. The postings also say that the author noticed that the roommate seemed to have pointed his web cam at the author’s bed, and described how this "set off" the posting’s author, who then searched his room for any additional cameras.
"so the other night i had a guy over," the initial Sept. 21 posting, made under the name cit2mo, begins. "I had talked to my roommate that afternoon and he had said it would be fine w/him. I checked his twitter today. he tweeted that I was using the room (which is obnoxious enough), AND that he went into somebody else’s room and remotely turned on his webcam and saw me making out with a guy."
This description of events is the same as that provided in media stories that report on how Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, had been asked to stay out of the room until midnight, and had activated his computer’s web cam remotely. Davi tweeted on what he said he observed via the video link: "I went into molly’s [sic] room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay."
Early reports indicated that the images captured by Ravi’s web cam were sent out for all to see, but later reports said that the webcam’s feed was directed to only one computer, and that the video did not show sexual intercourse taking place.
But reports also said that Ravi later attempted to spy on Clementi once again. A Sept. 21 message from Ravi invited readers to tune in once more: "I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12," Ravi allegedly sent out. "Yes, it’s happening again."
"so my question is what next?" the JustUsBoys posting continued. "I feel like the only thing the school might do is find me another roommate, probably with me moving out...and i’d probably just end up with somebody worse than him....I mean aside from being an asshole from time to time, he’s a pretty decent roommate...
"the other thing is I that don’t wanna report him and then end up with nothing happening except him getting pissed at me," cit2mo added.
In a subsequent posting that same day, cit2mo wrote, "I guess what he was doing was...he was in another person’s room, with other people... and so I feel like it was ’look at what a fag my roommate is’--other people have commented on his profile with things like ’how did you manage to go back in there?’ ’are you ok?’."
Cit2mo continued, "and the fact that the people he was with saw my making out with a guy [w]as the scandal whereas i mean come on...he was SPYING ON ME....do they see nothing wrong with this? unsettling to say the least...."
Cit2mo and others swapped ideas over the course of the thread on how cit2mo might respond, with cit2mo saying at one point that he would talk to the dorm’s resident advisor and contemplating possible ways to get back at his roommate. But, "revenge never ends well for me, as much as I would love to pour pink paint all over his stuff.....that would just let him win," cit2mo wrote.
On Sept. 22, cit2mo posted further descriptions of events that seemed to match those that the media said Clementi had endured. "so I wanted to have the guy over again," the posting read. "I texted roomie around 7 asking for the room later tonight and he said it was fine."
But, cit2mo continued, "when I got back to the room I instantly noticed he had turned the webcam toward my bed. And he had posted online again....saying....’anyone want a free show just video chat me tonight’...or something similar to that...."
Cit2mo wrote that he informed the dorm’s resident advisor of this apparent attempt at violating his privacy a second time. "I haven’t even seen my roommate since sunday when i was asking for the room the first time...and him doing it again just set me off....so talking to him just didn’t seem like an option," cit2mo wrote. "meanwhile I turned off and unplugged his computer, went crazy looking for other hidden cams....and then had a great time."
In his final post on the thread, on Sept. 22, cit2mo wrote about having provided his dorm’s resident advisor with a written description of events. "he seemed to take it seriously," cit2mo wrote. "he asked me to email him a written paragraph about what exactly happened... I emailed it to him, and to two people above him...."
Clementi jumped that same day, after posting a message at his Facebook page that read, "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry."
As others continued to discuss the situation at JustUsBoys.com, cit2mo fell silent. On Sept. 29, one chat participant wrote, "Ok... I seriously hope this just a coincidence... but I just saw this story on reddit and remembered this post." The message included a link to a Gawker story on Clementi’s suicide.
The wider debate on the blogosphere came to include defenders of Ravi and Wei, the AP reported on Oct. 1, 2010, going on to say that the online discussion had been "emotional and sometimes vitriolic. Some postings call the suspects ’sickos’ and ’cold-blooded killers’ while others display homophobia and racism (both suspects are minorities), even thanking the suspects for their possible role in a gay man’s death."
Last month, Clementi’s parents issued a statement in which they called for Ravi and Wei to be prosecuted, but not given overly harsh punishments.
"The past six months have been the most difficult and painful of our lives," the statement read. "We have done our best to deal with the grief and pain of the death of our son Tyler, in awful circumstances while dealing with the crush of media attention, the pending criminal investigations and, of course, our own unanswered questions."
An April 20 statement from the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office noted that the bias crime charges carried a steeper penalty than similar crimes perpetrated without a bias motivation.
"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," the statement read. "The panel further charged that T.C. [Tyler Clementi] reasonably believed he was a target because of his sexual orientation.
"Under state law, bias is charged a degree higher than the underlying crime, in this case, invasion of privacy," the statement continued. "Accordingly, the defendant has also been charged with two counts of second degree bias and two counts of third degree bias. A second degree offense carries a prison exposure of five to 10 years."
But the invasion of privacy and bias charges are not the only crimes Ravi stands accused of.
"Based on events and actions determined during the on-going investigation, the grand jury concluded that Ravi also attempted to mislead investigators and witnesses in various ways," the statement continued. "As a result, the grand jury charged Ravi with three counts of tampering with evidence, three counts of hindering his own apprehension and one count of witness tampering.
"Specifically, the grand jury charged that Ravi deleted a post on Twitter alerting others to view T.C.’s and M.B.’s second encounter on September 21, 2010, and replaced it with a false post on Twitter intended to mislead the investigation," the statement went on. "M.B." referred to the young man with whom Clementi had the allegedly surveilled encounter.
"Additionally, it was charged that Ravi tried to convince witnesses not to testify against him and provided investigators with information intended to mislead them in their investigation," the statement said.
Ravi’s lawyer says that his client is innocent. But the aftermath of Clementi’s suicide, the AP reported, has been "immense."
"The Point, a scholarship-granting group based in Los Angeles, has announced a scholarship in Clementi’s memory," the Mar. 23 article noted. "The Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra and the Bergen Youth Orchestra, where Clementi, a violinist, had been a member, have had performances in his memory and named concertmaster chairs after him."
Moreover, the AP article said, Rutgers has embraced gender-neutral housing in some dorms "largely as a way to make gay, lesbian and transgender students more comfortable.
"And celebrities from President Barack Obama to entertainer Ellen DeGeneres have campaigned publicly against bullying," the AP article added.
New Jersey GLBT advocacy organization Garden State Equality issued praise for the grand jury’s indictments against Ravi and for Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan.
"As Garden State Equality has said all along, Mr. Ravi’s grotesque violation of Tyler Clementi’s invasion of privacy, based on Mr. Ravi’s perception of Tyler’s sexual orientation, presents the clearest-cut violation of New Jersey law," the group said in a news release. "You could not ask for a clearer case.
"To those who say that Mr. Ravi’s conduct was merely a prank that students are apt to pull--and that somehow he should not receive a tough sentence --we say that’s nonsense," the statement went on. "That heinous philosophy has tragically done so much to create an anti-bullying epidemic in our state and nation in the first place.
"Today’s indictment, when combined with the recently enacted anti-bullying law which Garden State Equality steered to enactment--widely considered the strongest anti-bullying law in the country--will have an appropriate chilling effect on bullies everywhere," the statement added. "Today is a day of justice."