For 30 minutes, six girls ganged up on a classmate, slamming her head into a wall and taking turns pummeling her and videotaping it all to post on the Internet. And when they were arrested and were being booked into juvenile detention, they joked about not being able to go to the beach, a Florida sheriff said Tuesday on TODAY.
The vicious attack in Lakeland, Fla., was supposedly in response to slurs and insults the victim had posted about them on MySpace. But the alleged online comments are no justification for the attack, Polk County, Fla., Sheriff Grady Judd told co-host Meredith Vieira.
“I don’t have the specifics of those comments, but there is nothing our victim could have said on the Internet that would have caused that kind of beating,” Judd said.
Officials released three minutes of the 30-minute video that show two of the girls taking turns screaming obscenities at the victim between attacks with their fists, while the others watched and taped the attack. They also challenge the victim to fight back, which she does not do on the video.
“The beating you’re seeing is the second beating,” he said. “She was knocked unconscious prior to this video clip.”
The 16-year-old victim suffered a concussion, and has hearing loss in her left ear and some loss of vision in her left eye, Judd said. Her face is obscured in the video and her name is being withheld.
Facing charges of battery, false imprisonment and kidnapping are Mercades Nichols, 17, Brittini Hardcastle, 17, April Cooper, 14, Cara Murphy, 16, Britney Mayes, 17, Kayla Hassell, 15, Zachary Ashley, 17, and Stephen Schumaker, 18.
The two boys are accused of acting as lookouts outside the house in which the beating took place on March 30.
All are in juvenile detention except for Schumaker, an adult, who was booked into the Polk County Jail and released on $5,000 bond.
Judd is recommending that all be charged and tried as adults, but that is a decision that is yet to be made by prosecutors who are investigating the case, Judd said.
The attack took place in the home of Nichols’ grandmother, where Nichols was staying during spring break, according to her mother, Christina Garcia.
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According to local newspaper accounts, the victim had been staying at the house with Nichols after being thrown out of her own home. In a separate interview on TODAY with Matt Lauer, Garcia said that her daughter did not take part in the beating and, in fact, tried to warn the victim not to go into the house.
Mother defends suspect
Police say that Nichols was one of the girls who lured the victim to the house while Nichols’ grandmother was at work.
“Mercades, my daughter, warned this girl before she came into the house,” Garcia said. She said her daughter told the victim, “The two girls that you have been running your mouth about and threatening on MySpace are in the house. Please do not go in the house.”
She added that an adult in the home next door heard her daughter say that.
Lauer asked Garcia if she thought her daughter should have called police at some point during the half-hour attack.
“My daughter should have picked up the phone and called the police. Yes, she did warn this girl not to go in the house, but I do believe my daughter should have called the police,” she said.
But Garcia also said that the incident is being overblown by Judd.
“First of all, the tape that was released is only three minutes long. That was the worst of it,” she said, contradicting the sheriff. “My daughter is the one who turned the video tape over to the sheriff’s department for evidence. My daughter turned it over to them.”
Judd said the most shocking thing about the attack is how lightly the alleged assailants took their actions. Vieira asked him if they showed any remorse when they were arrested.
“None at all,” he said. “When we had them arrested and in detention, they were laughing and joking, ‘Guess we’re not going to go to the beach on this spring break.’ One girl actually asked our detective, ‘Am I going to be released in time to go to cheerleading practice tomorrow?’ ”
When told that Garcia disputes his account of what happened, Judd replied, “I’m not concerned with what one of the mothers of the suspects said; she doesn’t even have custody of the child.”
Garcia said she does have custody of her daughter, who, she told local reporters, was staying with her grandmother to be closer to school.
Judd said he wants to make the case an example to others.
“Our goal is not only to deal with this issue, but to try to educate parents across the state and across the nation that this is what your children are watching,” he said. “This is what some children are participating in. And we as a society have got to say, ‘This has to stop,’ because if we desensitize our children to this today, then what’s next tomorrow?”
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