Rutgers students charged in the invasion-of-privacy case could face five years in prison. (Photo courtesy phisigmasigma.org)
A Rutgers University student jumped to his death off a bridge a day after authorities say two classmates surreptitiously recorded him having sex with a man in his dorm room and broadcast it over the internet.
Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge last week, said his family’s attorney, Paul Mainardi. Police recovered a man’s body on Sept. 29 in the Hudson River just north of the bridge, and authorities were trying to determine if it was Clementi’s.
ABC News and the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., reported that Clementi left on his Facebook page on Sept. 22 a note that read: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” On Sept. 29, his Facebook page was accessible only to friends.
Two Rutgers freshmen have been charged with illegally taping the 18-year-old Clementi having sex and broadcasting the images via an internet chat program.
Steven Goldstein, chairman of the gay rights group Garden State Equality, said in a statement that his group considers Clementi’s death a hate crime.
“We are heartbroken over the tragic loss of a young man who, by all accounts, was brilliant, talented, and kind,” Goldstein said. “And we are sickened that anyone in our society, such as the students allegedly responsible for making the surreptitious video, might consider destroying others’ lives as a sport.”
On the Rutgers campus, there was dismay over Clementi’s death and the circumstances that led to it.
Freshman Jonathan Pena said he was in a dorm lounge on Sept. 19 when someone came in and mentioned the sex webcast happening that night. “I knew him as a nice kid,” Pena said. “I didn’t know why anyone was bothering him with that.”
Rutgers president Richard McCormick sent a letter to the campus community, saying school officials were “profoundly saddened by this report.”
“If the charges are true, these actions gravely violate the university’s standards of decency and humanity,” McCormick wrote.
News of Clementi’s death came the same day that Rutgers—the flagship university in a state known for ruthless mob bosses, petulant reality show stars, and cutthroat drivers—launched a two-year project to get people on campus to behave better.
Under the aegis of that project, students, faculty, and other employees have been encouraged to attend a series of lectures, presentations, and discussions on civility, exploring such topics as how cell phones, iPods, and other gadgets affect civility, as well as sportsmanship for athletes and fans.
One of the defendants, Dharun Ravi, was Clementi’s roommate, Mainardi told the Star-Ledger. The other defendant is Molly Wei. Ravi and Wei could face up to five years in prison if convicted.
A lawyer for Ravi did not immediately return a message from the Associated Press (AP) seeking comment. It was unclear whether Wei had retained a lawyer.
The Middlesex County, N.J., prosecutor’s office charged the pair, both 18, with two counts apiece of invasion of privacy, claiming they used the webcam to view and transmit a live image of Clementi on Sept. 19. Ravi also was charged with two more counts of invasion of privacy, alleging he tried to transmit another encounter of Clementi on Sept. 21.