Grandstanding Sheriff Who Charged Two Girls in the Rebecca Sedwick Suicide Never Had a Case

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
April 10 2014 6:23 PM

The Sheriff Overstepped

Grady Judd got the spotlight, but no justice, in charging two teenage girls in the Rebecca Sedwick suicide case.

Sheriff Grady Judd.
Sheriff Grady Judd.

Photo courtesy Sheriff Grady Judd Polk County Sheriff's Office

Here’s how a longtime colleague of Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County, Fla., talks about him in the local press: "I kid him: 'The most dangerous place in Polk County is to get between you and a TV camera,'” said Gary Hester, now a local police chief. “He just laughs. But he's worked the media very well.”

Emily Bazelon Emily Bazelon

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

I’m not sure that stale joke is ever funny, but now it has really curdled. Judd is the sheriff who brought felony charges, in conjunction with the state's attorney's office, in October 2013 against two girls, 12 and 14, after the suicide a month earlier of a third girl, Rebecca Sedwick. Judd did indeed work the media, racking up local and national coverage by saying at a press conference that Rebecca was “absolutely terrorized on social media.” Judd claimed that as many as 15 kids had tormented Rebecca, baiting her to kill herself. Judd charged the two girls, Katelyn Roman and Guadalupe Shaw, with aggravated stalking and released their names and mugshots (once you charge a felony, that’s what his office says state law requires). He made it sound like they posed an urgent risk, saying of Guadalupe: “We decided that we can’t leave her out there. Who else is she going to torment, who else is she going to harass?”   

A month later, prosecutors dropped the charges after combing through thousands of Facebook posts and failing to find evidence of cyberbullying. That’s OK: Judd called it a win, pointing to the fact that Katelyn and Guadalupe—who had to go to a juvenile detention facility when she was arrested—were in counseling. “We’ve raised awareness and we’ve helped kids,” Judd told reporters, “I’m glad we did what we did, and we would do it again tomorrow.”

Advertisement

Judd said the same thing in stories published this week, based for the first time on the 300-page file in the case. Here’s the AP story. Key quotes:

The file contains scant evidence of cyberbullying, even though officials publicly described cruel text and social media messages as reasons for Rebecca's suicide.

And:

After Rebecca's death, Judd said as many as 15 classmates had ganged up on the girl and sent her messages saying "You should die" and "Why don't you go kill yourself?" But no such messages appear in the case file, although detectives interviewed some students who said they had seen such messages. Judd said his detectives tried to obtain records from social media companies overseas without success.

And:

Deputies wrote that they saw screen shots of cruel messages and that some of the evidence was deleted, but it's unclear by whom, Judd said.

I’ve read those 300 pages too, and a well-done story in Cosmopolitan by Abigail Pesta that’s based on the file plus interviews with many of the people involved, and here’s what it all shows: When the police initially interviewed Tricia Norman, Rebecca’s grieving mother, she told them her daughter had been bullied during the 2012–13 school year, when she started middle school in sixth grade. She also said Rebecca’s relationship with her father had “deteriorated,” according to the deputy’s notes. “Tricia stated this had a profound effect on Rebecca and she began showing signs of depression,” he wrote. In December 2012, Norman found out that Rebecca was cutting herself. She did what a good mom should: Took her daughter to counseling. Rebecca was briefly committed to a hospital. Norman also took away her cellphone for a time.

Katelyn Roman told Pesta that she and Rebecca met at the start of their sixth-grade year and became friends. Katelyn also became friends with Guadalupe. According to Katelyn, Guadalupe started liking a boy who had been Rebecca’s boyfriend and got other girls to gang up on Rebecca. Katelyn, who says she’d been bothered that Rebecca had been telling small lies, sided with Guadalupe and broke off their friendship. There are multiple reports that at one point that fall Rebecca said her mother was abusing her, but then took it back, saying she’d made it up.

There was a fight at some point that fall or winter, in which Katelyn and Rebecca pushed each other. By February 2013, the school had changed Rebecca’s schedule to separate her from some of the other girls. But Norman decided to take her out of school and homeschool her for the rest of the school year. And according to the sheriff’s office itself, the problems Rebecca had with Katelyn and Guadalupe ended there. The stalking charges cite “a pattern of conduct between Dec 2012 and February 2013.”

When Rebecca started seventh grade in August 2013, a few weeks before she died, she was at a new school. Her mom thought she was doing fine there. But the files show that Rebecca had been thinking about suicide over the summer. The night before she died, she texted a friend “I NEED YOU” and they discussed whether she should break up with a boy she said had kissed another girl. At about 5:30 the next morning, a few hours before she died, Rebecca texted “We broke up so like…” and then “I wanted to say bye…for like ever.”

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Republicans Want the Government to Listen to the American Public on Ebola. That’s a Horrible Idea.

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Tom Hanks Has a Short Story in the New Yorker. It’s Not Good.

Brow Beat

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 7:13 PM Deadly Advice When it comes to Ebola, ignore American public opinion: It’s ignorant and misinformed about the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 6:32 PM Taylor Swift’s Pro-Gay “Welcome to New York” Takes Her Further Than Ever From Nashville 
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.