Ex-Rutgers Student Convicted of Invasion of Privacy, Bias Intimidation

Friday, March 16, 2012

A former Rutgers University student accused of using a webcam to spy on his gay roommate's love life was convicted of all counts Friday in a case that exploded into the headlines when the victim of the snooping committed suicide by throwing himself off a bridge.

Dharun Ravi, 20, shook his head slightly after the guilty verdicts were read for all 15 counts, including bias intimidation, a hate crime, and invasion of privacy.

He could get years in prison - and could be deported to his native India, even though he has lived legally in the U.S. since he was a little boy - for his part in an act that cast a spotlight on teen suicide and anti-gay bullying and illustrated the Internet's potential for tormenting others.

Prosecutors said that Ravi set up a webcam in his dorm room in September 2010 and captured his roommate, Tyler Clementi, kissing another man, then tweeted about it and excitedly tried to catch Clementi in the act again two days later. About a half-dozen students were believed to have seen the live video of the kissing.

Clementi's father advised young people: "You're going to meet a lot of people in your life. Some of these people you may not like. Just because you don't like them doesn't mean you have to work against them."

"This tragedy, which will forever affect the lives of the families involved, deeply touched the Rutgers community and the world," the university said in a statement Friday. "This sad incident should make us all pause to recognize the importance of civility and mutual respect in the way we live, work and communicate with others.

Within days, Clementi realized he had been watched and leaped from the George Washington Bridge after posting one last status update on Facebook: "Jumping off the gw bridge, sorry."

Ravi's lawyer argued that the college freshman was not motivated by any malice toward gays - a necessary element to prove a hate crime - and that his actions were just those of an immature "kid."

The defense also contended Ravi initially set up the camera because he was afraid Clementi's older, "sketchy"-looking visitor might steal his belongings.

Ravi was not charged with causing Clementi's death, and the suicide remained largely in the background at the trial, though some witnesses mentioned it and the jury was told Clementi had taken his life. Prosecutors were not allowed to argue directly that the spying led to his death; defense lawyers were barred from saying there were other reasons he killed himself.

Clementi's death was one in a string of suicides by young gays around the country in September 2010. President Barack Obama commented on it, as did talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.

New Jersey lawmakers hastened passage of an anti-bullying law because of the case, and Rutgers changed its housing policies to allow opposite-sex roommates in an effort to make gay, bisexual and transgender students feel more comfortable.

Testimony came from about 30 witnesses over 12 days, including the man seen kissing Clementi. The 32-year-old man was identified in court only by the initials M.B. Ravi himself did not testify, though the jury watched a video of his interrogation by police.

Ravi and Clementi, both 18-year-old freshmen from comfortable New Jersey suburbs, had been randomly assigned to room together at Rutgers, and Clementi had arrived at college just a few days after coming out to his parents as gay.

A string of students testified they never heard Ravi say anything bad about gays in general or Clementi in particular. But students did say Ravi expressed some concern about sharing a room with a gay man.

On Sept. 19, according to testimony, Clementi asked Ravi to leave their room so that he could have a guest. Later, Ravi posted on Twitter: "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."

Ravi told police that he viewed only seconds of the encounter via computer.

His friend Molly Wei testified that she and a few other students also watched the live stream of the men kissing. (Wei was initially charged in the case but was later accepted into a pretrial program that will allow her to keep her record clean.)

Two nights later, Clementi asked for the room alone again. This time, Ravi tweeted: "I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes, it's happening again." Ravi also texted a friend about a planned "viewing party" and, two students said, went to friends' dorm rooms to show them how to access the feed.

However, there was no evidence the webcam was turned on that night. Ravi told police he had put his computer to sleep. Prosecutors argued Clementi himself unplugged the computer.

According to testimony, Clementi submitted a room-change request form and talked to a resident assistant about what happened. He also used his laptop to view Ravi's Twitter site 38 times in the last two days of his life. He killed himself on Sept. 22.


Comments [20]

kevin from upper LS

@ john from the office- half of you makes sense,the other half is the usual garbage we've come to expect from you.

Mar. 17 2012 03:20 PM
john from office

Fuva is happy, lets put his head on a stick. If the defendant were black and the same "victim" had still been white, she would be shedding a tear for the oppressed negro. But since it is not her favorite race, it is ok to railroad a stupid kid.

Mar. 17 2012 01:23 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

...and, by "mocking" and "making a spectacle of", I mean spying on Tyler and M.B., which is the ACTION at issue here, that I think was motivated by their homosexuality, both times.

Mar. 16 2012 08:37 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

Gerry, I absolutely read the article. Ravi said all that after the fact. We don’t know what prompted it. It doesn’t speak to his intentions when he invaded Tyler’s privacy then put him on blast.

By your logic, the existence of conscious, extreme, violent bigotry makes the lesser, more subtle but nevertheless quite painful kind acceptable.

Ravi was correctly not charged with Tyler's death. But,
Why was he so interested/concerned about Tyler and his company? Requests to be alone in dorm room are pretty standard.
If he had an issue with it, why not escalate it to the R.A.? And if he decided to take the matter in his own hands, why not point the cam at his stuff?
How could he have not known that pointing it at the two surreptitiously was not privacy invasive spying?
And why did he think it was okay to mockingly make a spectacle of them to his friends, and then to attempt to do this again, to an even bigger crowd? What made it okay, to Ravi, to objectify Tyler and his company? Apparently, because they were homosexual. [‘Oh, and my roommate’s gay, like what if something else is going on?’]

Casual, subtle belittlement of gays is quite common, which is probably why you're insensitive to it; like Ravi, it's been normalized for you. Ravi is not foaming at the mouth, hurling insults or wielding bottles. But gays are/were fair game to him for humiliation, to be mocked in front of others. Beyond thought, this is action. I see this inclination in his commentary, as reported by Parker in the NYer, even if Parker doesn't. [Though Parker does acknowledge that "there’s no sign that he was inhibited by the fear that he might cause his roommate embarrassment, or annoyance, by discussing him on Facebook and Twitter."]

And, of course, to say that what Ravi did was an immature "prank" does not make it non-homophobic nor non-criminal. These are not mutually exclusive.

This mentality and behavior we seriously need to be mindful of and discourage.

Mar. 16 2012 08:11 PM
kevin from upper LS

fuva-you're going to legislate morality,right? so we're going to stomp out "bullying", via big brother judicial excess. amazing. even more amazing, is your apparent inability,to see the pandoras box, that is now open. to give, an already heavy handed judicial system, this sort of extreme tool,is just insane.

Mar. 16 2012 06:51 PM
Joe from DC from Washington DC

Wow, it isn't often you see a story on here that really splits opinion right down the middle.

It's a tragedy Tyler Clementi found his life so hopeless that suicide seemed like a reasonable alternative. Those first few years in College can be really traumatic for young people not ready for it. I know I didn't have to struggle with being a homosexual in my Freshman year but I was terrified at the idea of standing on the threshold of adulthood and independence. It's enough to make most good people do bad things.

I really don't think Ravi is a "bully". He was an immature kid, as was Clementi. They both could have used some help growing up. Now one will do it in jail and the other will never get the chance.

Mar. 16 2012 06:22 PM

Fuva, it angers me that you use the word bigotry so casually. I agree with Rosa: Ravi is stupid and insensitive, but calling him a bigot is irresponsible and it undermines the impact its meaning There are so many other cases worthy of the discussion of hate and bigotry, but this case isn't one of them. In fact, Ravi said the following: ""I’ve known you were gay and I have no problem with it," Ravi texted. "In fact one of my closest friends is gay and he and I have a very open relationship. I just suspected you were shy about it which is why I never broached the topic. I don’t want your freshman year to be ruined because of a petty misunderstanding, its adding to my guilt.” Ravi even apologized. You definition of bigotry is very skewed.

Fuva, I'm not convinced you read that article.

Mar. 16 2012 06:18 PM
Scott from Brooklyn

Amen to Political pop's concern. Dharun Ravi didn't push Tyler Clementi. This decision will set a precendent; a very very problematic precendent. To restate what others have said; Ravi did something stupid, not felonious, and his sensitivities should not have been part of it. This guy had NO previous instance of bias!

Mar. 16 2012 06:08 PM
kevin from upper LS

this is a half step removed from a thought crime. this is insane. the world is safer than ever, for neurotic white female prosecuters: avenging dark demented angels from hell.

Mar. 16 2012 05:59 PM
Politically Correct Taliban

So now if you get a mentally ill roommate who kills himself you get lynched. Yay.

Mar. 16 2012 05:55 PM
political pop from America

from what is seems is he thought his roomate was gay and didnt want a gay roomate then he finally got proof and wanted to tell and show everyone. I dunno bought anyone else but the first time i found out my own friend was gay i flipped out like it shocked me or something that gay people existed.. so im pretty sure that is how he may have felt

Mar. 16 2012 05:52 PM
telefvrad from Jackson Heights, NY

The sociopath got what he deserved. There was PLENTY of evidence he did this out of hatred for gay people. NOT ONCE did he express any apology or regret to the Clementi family.

But today's NPR report on the verdict reveals just how far we have to go to fight the culture of bully-coddling in this country. The Newark reporter bizarrely proclaims her "surprise" that Ravi was found guilty of bias intimidation. Sure, he was "upset", she explains, but couldn't see any grounds for "intimidation"?

What? Clementi goes to Ravi's twitter feed 35 TIMES the day before he kills himself, and this "journalist" can't see intimidation? Good thing she wasn't on the jury!

Beyond that, what about the complicit little monsters who gleefully watched the show -- not ONE of whom saw anything wrong with it? Bullies thrive because they find sad, morally confused acolytes willing to follow their lead. That all of them escaped any reprimand whatsoever only assures that future acts of cyberbullying will happen again in the dorms at Rutgers, and elsewhere. Shame.

Mar. 16 2012 05:09 PM
political pop from America

including bias intimidation, "a hate crime," and invasion of privacy

So how is it a hate crime?

Mar. 16 2012 05:07 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

On the contrary, Gerry Kim/ Rosa/ political pop:

This verdict will help establish needed tech privacy guidelines and highlights subtle but nonetheless hurtful/harmful hate, which citizens need to be cognizant of and society needs to work against. Hopefully, this verdict will sensitize us, make us think. Surely, it should make us think twice...

What the New Yorker article reveals is that Ravi was derisive of gay people because they are gay. He displayed similar contempt for poor people because they are poor. What is this, if not bigotry?

If we are to take Ravi at his word, it was this bigotry that had him "worried about his stuff" when Tyler made the all-too-common request for the dorm room ALONE with company. In response, Ravi set up the video feed and pointed the cam NOT AT HIS STUFF, but at these unsuspecting young adults. Nor did he escalate his concern to any available authority. He then thought it appropriate to objectify the disparaged two amongst his circle of friends. Later, when Tyler requested PRIVACY again -- when Ravi had even less reason to worry about his untouched property -- Ravi invited even more people to make a spectacle out of the two.

Again, the invasion of privacy here is a no-brainer. That Ravi's deprecation of gay people because they are gay is apparently lost on so many underscores the importance of this verdict, the discourse it will stimulate and the needed new standards of thinking and behaving it will hopefully usher in -- particularly amongst our youngsters who are at the age when the hate is most potentially damaging and deadly for their targeted peers.

Mar. 16 2012 03:42 PM
Ben from NJ

Where any of you there when the jurors asked the judge for clarification on the bias intimidation charge? Or are you assuming bias means blatant homophobia?

Mar. 16 2012 03:23 PM
political pop from America

SOOOOOOOOO how do we know Clementi Killed himself because he knew he had been found out by mulitple people he was gay? Where is that proof? How do we know him and his "lover" didnt just break up or something???? mabey i missed something....

Mar. 16 2012 02:13 PM
Rosa from White Plains

Dharun Ravi is a stupid, insensitive kid. I do not believe he spied on Clementy because he hated gays, he did it because he was stupid. Very tragic. Nobody wins, we all loose.

Mar. 16 2012 01:03 PM
Gerry Kim

Has anyone not read the New Yorker article on this? If there's any truth to that story, then this outcome is truly will undermine any cause associated with bullying, which is what I'm more fearful of. In other words, if the New Yorker story is true and another genuine bully/hate crime case does come along later, people will not take it seriously because of the outcome of this trial.

Mar. 16 2012 12:29 PM
Tessa from Port Chester, NY

Justice for Tyler, but no one really wins here.

Mar. 16 2012 12:15 PM

Bravo. Justice has been served.

Mar. 16 2012 11:55 AM

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