Sixteen months after a pair of appalling attacks in a middle school locker room drew national attention to Hillsborough County, the last two of the four defendants have accepted a plea deal. None of the teens will spend time in jail. Given the circumstances of the case, the outcome is about the best prosecutors could hope for, and it does spare the victim the trauma of a trial. But the incident's real legacy is unfolding as Hillsborough and every other school district has been put on notice about the importance of monitoring locker rooms and bullies.
The 13-year-old victim, an alternate on a flag-football team, was apparently taunted for weeks in an unsupervised locker room by four more-talented members of the squad. Eventually, as Assistant State Attorney Kimberly Hindman said, "the cruelty crossed the line and became criminal." Twice, according to the victim's deposition, two boys — Randall Moye and Lee Myers — held the victim down while two others — Raymond Price-Murray and Diemante Roberts — assaulted him with a hockey stick and broomstick.
Beyond the clear trauma one student had suffered was the sad realization that officials at the A-rated Walker Middle School had failed to properly supervise students. Several students admitted to having overheard the bullying or attacks, but no one had alerted an adult. Only when the victim crossed words later with one of his attackers in front of a coach did the assaults come to light.
Initially all four of the defendants were charged with sexual battery. But this week, prosecutors, after already working deals with Moye and Myers, acknowledged they didn't have the evidence or witness testimony they needed to support a sex crime charge against Price-Murray and Roberts. Instead, the two pleaded to felony battery and received the toughest sentences: 100 hours of community service and five year's probation with the promise that any violation would trigger a prison sentence.
Now the Hillsborough County School District has a new policy on supervising students, clearly stating the expectation that officials should never leave students unsupervised in areas such as locker rooms where attacks can easily occur. It's launched an anti-bullying campaign aimed at changing the culture so students will report bullying incidents. The challenge now: maintaining that vigilance long after memories fade about what went on in the Walker Middle School boys' locker room while no adults were around.