A New Jersey grand jury today indicted Dharun Ravi on 15 counts of invasion of privacy, evidence tampering, witness intimidation and hate crimes in the death of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi. Clementi, a Rutgers freshman and a classmate of Dharun's, jumped off the George Washington Bridge last September after his roommate Ravi and another student, Molly Wei, allegedly filmed him on a webcam in a sexual encounter with another man, broadcasting the feed on the Internet. The stunt and the suicide helped spark a national debate on bullying.
In fact, the grand jury said it believed there was cause to charge Dharun with four hate crimes, as well as two invasions of privacy and two attempted invasions of privacy, plus a litany of evidence and witness tampering charges. But despite public pressure online, prosecutors have not charged Ravi or Wei with manslaughter in Clementi's death.
Many have also called for hate crime charges in the case, and those came through. But why four? Well, there were two incidents–one successful and one attempted–and while the completion of the offense matters for charges like invasion of privacy, the "bias" charges are essentially riders to the privacy charges, as the language in the indictment indicates: "Dharun Ravi, on our about Sept 19, 2010… did commit the offense of Invasion of Privacy… with the purpose to intimidate T.C. and/or M.B. because of sexual orientation." The hate-crime charges, known technically as "bias intimidation," serve to add time to the eventual sentence.
So where do the four invasion of privacy charges come from? As Middlesex County prosecutor spokesman John O'Neill, explained to The Atlantic Wire via telephone, "There are different counts that lead to different events … they cover different actions." Ravi faces two invasion of privacy charges–one for "observing" Clementi and M.B. (as his partner is identified) in a situation "where a reasonable person would know that another may expose intimate parts or engage in sexual penetration or sexual conduct"–and a second, more serious charge, for "disclosing a photograph, film, videotape, recording or other reproduction of the image" of Clementi and M.B. There are two more attempted invasion of privacy charges for the incident on Sept. 21st.
As for the evidence and witness tampering charges, they come from things Ravi allegedly did after Clementi's suicide. One covers a tweet Ravi allegedly deleted that announced his illicit webcast of Clementi having sex. Another charge refers to the fake tweet with which he allegedly replaced it. He also allegedly erased compromising text messages and tried to sway a witness. All those things constitute "hindering apprehension or prosecution," with which Ravi is charged three times.
It's common for prosecutors to pile on charges at the beginning of a case, knowing some might not stick. These don't seem superfluous, though. Ravi and Wei's lawyers had no comment today, but the Reuters relayed a quote from Clementi's family: "The grand jury indictment spells out cold and calculated acts against our son Tyler by his former college roommate."