GHS rappers meet judge in chambers
GUILDERLAND — The four Guilderland High School juniors arrested for cyberbullying, a misdemeanor under a 2010 Albany County law, sat in a packed Guilderland courtroom last Thursday night.
Their cases were heard first by Judge Denise Randall, in her chambers, behind a closed door.
“All involve a person under the age of majority, an infant under the eyes of the law,” said Randall, before unplugging her computer and taking it into her chambers.
One by one, the young men, each accompanied by a lawyer and at least one parent, entered the judge’s chambers and stayed between two and three minutes.
There was no row of television cameras as there had been at press conferences last month.
The court clerk’s office referred all questions, even ones as routine as the time of the court appearance, to David Bookstaver, in New York City; Bookstaver is the public information officer for the state’s court system.
Bookstaver said it was the district attorney’s decision to grant youthful offender status to the suspects at the request of their attorneys.
“You’re not supposed to know this happened. Y.O.,” he said of youthful offender status, “allows for this not to be in public.”
When told that the Guilderland Police held a well-attended press conference last month to announce the arrests, Bookstaver said, “I can’t account for the cops.”
At the Nov. 21 press conference, Guilderland Police Captain Curtis Cox said, “The message here is bullying will not be tolerated.”
The four young men had posted a rap on YouTube, Cox said, that made “very inappropriate accusations, sexually explicit descriptions, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera” about “ bunch of sophomores,” mostly females. “At least two” of the “20 or so” students named in the rap had come forward as victims, Cox said.
In order to make the arrests, Cox said, “We had to have a victim that felt bullied.”
The five-minute rap was posted on Nov. 11 and was removed the next day by one of the students who posted it.
Cox released a transcript of the recording as well as the names of the defendants. Each of these Guilderland residents — Michael K. Malone, 17; Giovanni D. Santor, 16; Joshua A. Thompson, 16; and Parker J. Carmichael, 17 — was charged with one count of cyberbullying.
If found guilty, each could be fined up to $1,000 and/or jailed for up to a year.
One of their lawyers, who declined to give his name, said after Thursday’s court session he felt confident his client would not be convicted. Two of the attorneys, Joseph A. Granich and James E. Tyner, did not return calls seeking comment.
Cecelia Walsh, spokeswoman for Albany County District Attorney David Soares, said this week of youthful offender status, “The case is still open and pending. The judge did seal the court. It is discretionary by the judge.”
Walsh cited Article 720 of the New York Criminal Procedure Law that says that a person who is at least 16 and less than 19 is eligible for youthful offender status.
Asked about the district attorney’s role leading up to the arrests and in sealing the case, Walsh said only, “Our office was part of the investigation.”
She concluded, “Publicly, our office cannot comment on a case sealed by a court.”
The county’s cyberbullying law is currently being challenged in the state’s top court and is slated to be heard by the Court of Appeals next year.
At the school
Meanwhile, the school district is pursuing its own course with the four students, handling the case under its code of conduct. Originally, Superintendent Marie Wiles said she would hold a hearing on the matter.
But she said this week, “They waived the right to a hearing…We ended up negotiating a settlement to provide for additional discipline.”
Wiles said she was not “at liberty” to disclose that discipline.
The four students were initially suspended from school. Asked if they were still suspended, Wiles replied, “They are not in school.”
The school district had held a press conference about the matter on Nov. 13, and had declined to name the students.
On Tuesday night, the school board watched a video of comments made by the high school principal, Thomas Lutsic, which had been previously broadcast at the high school.
In the wake of the stir caused by the rap, Wiles said that Lutsic’s was “a message the community needed.”
In the video, Lutsic faces the camera, with a backdrop of the Albany skyline behind him, and says Guilderland is the best school he has been at. Lutsic became principal at Guilderland High School in 2011 after working in three other districts previously.
He itemizes positive aspects of the school like its cleanliness, the appropriate language used by most, and the sensitivity shown to others.
Lutsic then quotes his grandmother on the importance of little things. “If we do them well, the big stuff comes naturally,” he says.
He goes on, referring to students’ enthusiasm in wearing the school color, “The halls were rivers of red.”
He also says, “When our community is in pain, we are all hurt.”
And, Lutsic asserts, “When one child seeks to harm another…as a school, we can’t tolerate it…We are better than that.”
With about 1,800 students, Lutsic continues, “We are all part of the whole community.” He says that events are being planned to strengthen the community and urges people to sign up at the guidance office or school library.
“Remember the small stuff; it’s not so small,” Lutsic concludes. “Commit a random act of kindness.”