A California appeals court has rejected a student’s assertion that “making loud obscene noises” meant a fellow student in a school toilet had waived his right to not being videotaped and to have that video be posted to social media.
On Monday, the court upheld a misdemeanor conviction of that student, who used his mobile phone to take a video of a classmate as he masturbated – or jokingly pretended to masturbate – in the school bathroom.
The student doing the filming, identified as MH in court documents, posted the 10-second video to Snapchat and Vine. In spite of Snapchat videos only lasting 24 hours, the video went viral, spreading not only throughout the school but beyond, to other schools.
MH later told authorities that he just did it for the laughs. He thought it was funny that somebody was apparently masturbating in the bathroom.
According to the Daily Dot, the boy in the video, 14-year-old Matthew Burdette, was mercilessly bullied.
He killed himself in November 2013, writing in a suicide note that…
I can’t do school anymore. I have no friends. I don’t want to kill myself but I have no friends.
The footage only showed a closed bathroom stall. But Matthew’s distinctive shoes and socks were visible in the gap between the stall wall and the floor, court documents said.
Matthew had been facing the toilet, and he was, in fact, making moaning sounds. But a friend, Ezekiel, who’d been in another stall at the time, testified that he’d thought that Matthew had been joking.
He “was like that,” Ezekiel said in Monday’s ruling.
Like, he would just mess around.
According to the Daily Dot, MH, an 11th grader at the time, wasn’t in on the joke. He entered the bathroom and, hearing Matthew’s moans, whipped out his camera.
The video, taken inside the bathroom at University City High in San Diego County, was shot about 20 feet away from the bathroom stall, according to court documents.
MH later uploaded the video, writing in a caption something along the lines of “I think this dude is jacking off.”
However, MH only came to the attention of authorities when he confronted Ezekiel at Matthew’s funeral, threatening to “kick his ass” if he didn’t stop telling people he took the video.
Ezekiel alerted school officials. MH then confessed that he’d uploaded the video, telling the police that he “felt terrible for what had happened.”
San Diego prosecutors charged MH with invasion of privacy, and a court sentenced the boy to probation.
The conditions of his probation include social media restrictions, among other things. MH appealed, claiming that Matthew had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the bathroom stall because his distinctive shoes were visible under the stall’s wall and Matthew was audibly moaning, which anyone in the bathroom could have heard.
He also argued that there was a “newsworthy” defense that immunized him from criminal liability and that his First Amendment right to free speech was being violated.
MH had contested that his recording of Matthew was “a matter of concern to his school community,” in the “public interest,” and amounted to constitutionally protected “news gathering.”
He said that Matthew was engaged in an unlawful act of masturbating in public, and MH had caught him in the act.
The court dismissed those claims, noting that they hadn’t been made during the initial trial, and rarely do appellate courts deal with claims made on appeal that haven’t first been vetted at trial.
As far as privacy rights go, in its 24-page decision upholding the misdemeanor conviction, the court wrote:
A student in a high school bathroom stall reasonably expects he will not be videoed and have that video disseminated on social media. Matthew did not forfeit that right merely because his socks and shoes could be seen and his voice could be heard by others in the bathroom.
Matthew may have run the risk that people in the bathroom would tell others what they witnessed there. But that is a far cry from expecting his actions would be electronically recorded and broadcasted to the student body.
10 comments on “Bathroom Snapchat video of suicide teen ruled criminal by court”
Disappointing how some kids need to so harshly learn bullying lessons. I’ll wager MH is truly remorseful. Heartbreaking for all involved.
Evidently I should have clarified that I was not endorsing a cavalier view of MH’s actions, nor was I attempting to minimize the grief felt by Matthew Burdette’s family and friends.
A handful of my memories invoke regret for their embodiment of the saying “youth is wasted on the young.” Anyone who never said or did anything during their teen years that they later wish they’d handled with more compassion is not adequately recalling their adolescence-fueled mindset during those years.
In 2013 MH jumped into a situation without thinking thoroughly–as teenagers are prone to do. For most of us, these bad decisions resulted in grounding and detention. He however will live the remainder of his life knowing he distressed someone enough to take their own life. In November 2013 he didn’t recognize his potential for inflicting emotional trauma; he had no inkling of how haunting that knowledge would be.
When the press reports he did it “for the laughs” that merely illustrates lack of foresight and doesn’t necessarily mean he wouldn’t (now) give damn near anything to take it all back.
I reiterate: heartbreaking for all involved.
Bullshit. “MH” should be in prison for distributing child pornography. And he obviously has no regrets since he’s fighting the courts’ decision to keep him off social media.
The video was taken from the otherside of a closed stall, and showed nothing but his shoes and socks. Clearly not porn. If this little sweetheart was going to jack off and moan in the stall at school, he deserved every bit of ribbing that he got. If he couldn’t handle it, then oh well. Parents didn’t know there was a problem but now want to sue everybody. Guess that’s where he got it.
Just because you can’t see his face doesn’t mean that it’s not child pornography. He was a CHILD and therefore whether his face was seen or not it is illegal. He did not have Mathews permission to post it and shouldn’t have. The fact that you said he deserves what he got shows how much of a simple minded asshole you are, supporting an invasion of privacy AND bullying.
So let me get this straight. So according to you it’s okay if someone films you as long as it’s on the other side of a bathroom stall?
Man, why don’t you just waive your right to privacy and expectation of there not being people filming you while you’re in the bathroom. In fact, why don’t you just make a porno since it seems like you don’t really care for personal privacy and have this sense of pro-exhibitionalism.
Stunning that MH defended himself, rather than understanding the depth of his influence. RIP Matthew Burdette. ~G
How did you come to the absurd conclusion that MH is remorseful? He tried to argue on appeal that he had every right to make the recording. Doesn’t sound like remorse to me. MH should be prosecuted for manslaughter. His actions directly led to the death of another person.
And just now seeing your follow-up comment Bryan. It is very clear that you your sympathies lie with MH. You lament that he will have to live with this for the rest of his life. At least he has a “rest of his life”… unlike Matthew Burdette. Shed your tears for MH … but know that you are putting your sympathies in the wrong place.
Why does he get to keep his privacy???? MH that’s ridiculous give his name his exposing people. What do s wrong with everyone?