15-Count Indictment in Rutgers Videotaping Tragedy

The former Rutgers University student accused of secretly videotaping an intimate encounter between his roommate, Tyler Clementi, and another man –– an action alleged to have led the gay college freshman to end his life several days later by leaping from the George Washington Bridge –– has been indicted on 15 criminal counts by a Middlesex County, New Jersey grand jury.

The charges against 19-year-old Dharun Ravi, of Plainsboro, New Jersey, announced on April 20, include the original invasion of privacy and attempted invasion of privacy counts made by the county prosecutor last fall, as well as bias charges based on the allegation that, beginning in August 2010 when the defendant learned the identity of his future roommate, he engaged in “bias intimidation” against the victim, who was 18 at the time of his death.

Invasion of privacy, bias intimidation as a sexual offense, witness tampering charged in suicide victim Tyler Clementi's case

In videotaping and live Internet streaming Ravi allegedly performed on September 19 and attempted to repeat on September 21, he “intended to intimidate [Clementi and the man with him] because of their sexual orientation,” the Middlesex prosecutor’s office said in a press release.

Clementi and the other man, on both occasions, were alone in the room the victim shared with Ravi .

The indictment states that Ravi “disclosed a photograph, film, videotape, recording, or other reproduction of the image of T.C. and/ or M.B. whose intimate parts were exposed or who were engaged in an act of sexual penetration or sexual contact without the consent of T.C. and/ or M.B.”

New Jersey law defines invasion of privacy as a sexual offense. Though Clementi’s name is known, neither he nor the man with whom he shared the encounter is identified by name in the indictment.

Ravi is also charged with three counts of tampering with evidence, three counts of hampering his own apprehension, and one count of witness tampering.

The prosecutor charged that the defendant deleted a Twitter post alerting others to the gay men’s September 21 encounter, replacing it “with a false post on Twitter intended to mislead the investigation.” He is also charged with providing false information to investigators and attempting to persuade witnesses not to testify against him.

While the third- and fourth-degree invasion of privacy charges expose Ravi to a penalty ranging from probation to five years in prison, the bias charge is a second-degree offense, which could mean incarceration of five to ten years.

News sources reported last fall that on September 22, a day after the second videotaping episode, Clementi posted an update to his Facebook page reading, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” Paul Mainardi, an attorney for his family, said the young man followed through on that the same day.

Prior to his suicide message, Clementi, a talented violinist from Ridgewood, New Jersey, had written on Facebook that he reported the harassment to his dormitory resident assistant and other university officials. The RA, he wrote, “seemed to take it seriously.”

Clementi’s death galvanized public attention toward the issue of LGBT youth suicide. On October 3, several thousand turned out in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park for a rain-soaked vigil whose speakers included then-Governor David Paterson and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Social network organizing led by NYU’s Delta Lambda Phi, an affiliate of a national fraternity founded by gay men, identified five young men believed to have recently committed suicide after intense anti-gay harassment — Clementi; two 13-year-old boys, Asher Brown of Harris County, Texas, and Seth Walsh of Tehachapi, California; and two 15-year-olds, Justin Aaberg of Anoka County, Minnesota, and Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Indiana.

In the wake of Clementi’s suicide, Molly W. Wei, a 19-year-old from West Windsor Township, New Jersey, who was also a Rutgers student at the time, was charged alongside Ravi with invasion of privacy. Her case has not yet been presented to a grand jury, though the prosecutor said those “charges are pending and the case against her remains active.”

Both Ravi and Wei withdrew from Rutgers, actions that forestalled any university disciplinary actions against them. Some of their fellow students complained publicly that the two had suffered from a rush to judgment in the case.

After the indictments were announced, Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s LGBT civil rights lobby, released a statement saying, “Without question, the indictment is in the best interests of justice and in the best interests of students across New Jersey, for their potential bullies will now think harder before demolishing another student’s life… 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. That heinous philosophy has tragically done so much to create a bullying epidemic in our state and nation in the first place.”