Central Florida attorney Mark O’Mara says he is drafting a law that would hold parents accountable in some cyberbullying cases, following the arrests this week of two girls in a Florida bullying and suicide investigation.
A 14-year-old girl and a 12-year-old girl were primarily responsible for bullying Rebecca Sedwick, 12, who committed suicide last month, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said this week.
They were charged with third-degree felony aggravated stalking and released to their parents. NBC News generally does not name juveniles charged with crimes.
The 14-year-old girl bragged about bullying Rebecca before her suicide in a Facebook post on Saturday, according to Judd. On Tuesday, he quoted the post almost word for word, saying, "'Yes, I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but I don't give a ...' and you can add the last word yourself.”
On his O’Mara Law Blog on Thursday, O’Mara highlighted how Judd said he wanted to charge the 14-year-old’s parents, but there were no “obvious charges” to bring against them. He also noted that the parents refused to bring the girls to authorities for questioning.
Family attorney Andrea DeMichael denied that the 14-year-old girl wrote the Facebook post, and told the “Today” show that she is not a bully.
"My client and her family are deeply saddened by Rebecca's death and send their condolences to Rebecca's family,” DeMichael said in a statement.
She said the parents regularly monitored her social networking activities, including on Facebook, but didn’t see the alleged messages and therefore didn’t see a problem to confront.
In his blog post, however, O’Mara made the case that the willful blindness or gross negligence he said the parents showed about their 14-year-old daughter’s alleged cyberbullying should be criminal.
“I think it should, and here’s why: if a child kills someone while operating a parent’s car, the parents can be held responsible. If a child kills someone while using a parent’s gun, the parent can be held responsible,” O’Mara wrote. “If a child breaks the law using a computer or cellphone provided by the parent, how is that different?”
Earlier this year O’Mara successfully defended George Zimmerman against second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, 17, of Miami Gardens. Zimmerman was acquitted of those charges in July.
O’Mara wrote Thursday that parents need to understand that their children can break the law and harm with the technology they give them – and understand that allowing their kids to go online brings with it responsibility and liability.
“If parents are not going to assume this responsibility on their own, and it seems like the parents in this case are not, then I would support legislation that places legal responsibility on parents, making them liable for what the children do with the online access parents provide,” O’Mara wrote. “I am drafting a proposed law that would give Sheriff Judd the ‘obvious charges’ needed to hold parents accountable.”
He added that there are several substantial obstacles that must be overcome before such legislation is passed.