Subject in Safford Snapchat cyberbullying case takes a plea

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – The 14-year-old freshman who caused a disruption at Safford schools due to allegedly sending threatening Snapchats to herself from a hacked account has pleaded guilty.

On Monday, the subject appeared in front of Graham County Superior Court Pro Tem Judge D. Corey Sanders and pleaded guilty to interference with the peaceful conduct of an educational institution, which was listed as an open-ended Class-6 felony. Since the felony is open-ended and not designated, the subject may have the felony reduced to a misdemeanor in the future.

Snapchats like this one caused numerous parents to withhold their children from school.

Graham County Chief Deputy County Attorney L. Scott Bennett previously told Gila Valley Central that the state’s goal was to dispense justice with mercy.

“We are profoundly concerned over the recent events at Safford High School and are proceeding with a juvenile prosecution,” Bennett previously said. “Not only was the school disrupted, but there were a lot of students and parents who were scared and upset by the messages that were posted and then reposted on multiple social media sites. While the conduct of the individual was criminal, the state is cognizant of the fact that the juvenile courts are designed to rehabilitate and counsel juvenile offenders in an effort to prevent future criminal actions. This approach will govern the prosecution in this case. The state is also greatly concerned about the potential psychological and emotional issues that led to these posts. We are making every effort to work with the juvenile court to not only provide justice for the crime but to provide the accused with the help and counseling she needs to prevent any future criminal conduct.”

Another Snapchat message example.

The defendant admitted to sending all the Snapchats herself, which began Oct. 23 and continued through Nov. 6. The chats were violent, threatening to kill, burn down her house and suggesting she commit suicide. The school took action when it learned of the cyberbullying and suspended the girl whose Snapchat account the threats were sent from. However, that girl turned out to be a victim of the defendant hacking her account.

Parents withheld hundreds of children from attending school Nov. 6 after the Snapchats continued and parents were unsure about the actual threat level of sending their children to school.

After initially being held at the Eastern Arizona Regional Juvenile Detention Facility, the defendant was transferred to receive mental health assistance.

After pleading guilty, sentencing was delayed until after a pre-sentence report could be generated in the case. The sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 12 at 3:45 p.m. The defendant is likely to receive probation.   

Gila Valley Central first broke the story about students being withheld from school by parents due to the Snapchat threats as well as the subsequent arrest.

Another Snapchat message with threats.

During a Safford City Council meeting, Safford Police Chief Joe Brugman publicly thanked Gila Valley Central for how it covered the situation and then did so privately as well.

Brugman also praised the school for how it handled the case and resource officer Luke Arbizo and detective Bill Wren, who quickly solved the case through strong police work while under pressure from the public to make an arrest.

“I will tell you that there are – I would estimate – hundreds of agencies across the country that would have an arrest two weeks earlier but it would have been the wrong person,” Brugman said. “We would have been sitting here talking about a lawsuit that would be staggering – I believe – (in the) hundreds of thousands is not a million because you damaged the reputation of a 14-year-old girl that way. And it would have been a very ugly thing. The investigators were methodical and thorough throughout this whole thing. This actually got done in an incredibly fast time.”