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Bullies whose assault led to death of 13-year-old boy will serve no time

This is just one of those stories that sticks with me. Diego Stoltz was a skinny 13-year-old boy who attended Moreno Valley Middle School. He’d been bullied by another group of boys at the school and one day back in September 2019, the bullying turned fatal.

Cellphone video that circulated on social media showed the boy being hit in the face by one boy, then sucker-punched on the side of his head by another. The second punch caused him to fall and hit his head against a pillar.

The boy who hit Diego first then hurries over to punch him again while he’s on the ground, the video shows. That boy then runs off and the video ends…

The 13-year-old bullies who did this didn’t intend to kill anyone, but their violent assault led directly to Diego’s death. Last November both attackers admitted to involuntary manslaughter in Riverside Juvenile Court. Last Friday a judge ruled that neither boy will spend even a single day in jail.

The Riverside District Attorney’s office told FOX 11 that Riverside County Superior Court Judge Roger A. Luebs ordered each juvenile to do 150 hours of community service and that they will be required to “participate in various programs specifically tailored toward their rehabilitative needs.”

The judge said he believed the probation department, who was pushing for jail time, was basing its terms and conditions on public outrage rather than rehabilitation.

“The idea that they didn’t go to youth prison shouldn’t be seen as giving them a slap on the wrist, actually they’re going to have a lot of work to do to complete their probation, which probably won’t end until their 18th birthday,” said defense attorney David Wohl, who represented one of the minors. “The probation wanted them to be sent to DJJ, which is the youth prison, which was not appropriate for 13-year-olds.”

I’m not sure what the judge is talking about here. The two kids who attacked Diego in 2019 were the same age he was then. This story from last November says they were both 14 by that point, which means they are now either 14 or 15 years old. Isn’t that exactly who the youth prison is for? Why couldn’t they have served some time behind bars and then had the 150 hours of community service tacked on at the end of that?

Again, I get this was involuntary manslaughter not murder but this isn’t a case where a victim fought back and accidentally killed his bully. It wasn’t even one kid who got carried away in a moment. These are two kids who allegedly ganged up on Diego over a period of several months. Complaints about the bullying started during the previous school year. Just a few days before the fatal attack, one of the boys punched him and threatened him. So community service for these kids sounds pretty light. Frankly, people are facing almost as serious personal outcomes for things they tweeted in high school as these kids are for manslaughter.

But as annoyed as I am with the judge’s sentence, I’m even more annoyed by the fact that the administrators at this school are trying to walk away from this scot-free.

Just four days before the fatal attack, on Sept. 12, 2019, one of the boys cornered and punched Diego in the chest and threatened to inflict further physical harm, Ring said. At which point Diego went to a science teacher and revealed what he had endured.

“This teacher saw his emotional state and knew there was something wrong, but there was nothing done,” the attorney alleged, pointing specifically to alleged inaction by the campus’ vice principal, Kamilah O’Connor.

That evening Diego told his family about the attack and his aunt who raised him after the death of his parents sent his adult sister Jazmin Salcedo to school with him the next day to make sure something was done about it.

Salcedo, Diego and O’Connor met for 20 minutes, and “after the meeting, O’Connor told Jazmin that she had learned the names of the bullies involved and she would suspend them for three days, starting Monday, Sept. 16. She also said their class schedules would be changed so that they would not be in Diego’s class anymore.”

The assistant principle allegedly told Diego to go home for the rest of the day (it was a Friday) and promised that by Monday everything would be different. Diego finally relaxed thinking his nightmare was over. He showed up at school Monday and nothing had changed. The bullies weren’t suspended. And that was the day he was fatally assaulted by two of them.

Diego’s family has sued the school and the assistant principle. The response from their lawyers claims none of this was their fault:

“Any injury or damage allegedly suffered by Plaintiffs occurred as a proximate result of negligence on their own part in that they failed to exercise ordinary care on his/her own behalf at the time and place alleged,” the Nov. 20 answer to a lawsuit filed by the family of Diego Stolz reads, in part.

In plain English, “they’re blaming Diego and blaming the family for him being killed,” said Manhattan Beach attorney David Ring, who represents Stolz’s family in the lawsuit…

O’Connor’s attorneys made a similar argument in their Nov. 23 response to the lawsuit by Stolz’s family. According to their response, Stolz and his family “knew of the danger and risk incident to their activity, but nevertheless freely and voluntarily exposed themselves to all risks of harm and thus assumed all risk of harm incidental thereto.”

This is basically the Animal House defense: You screwed up, you trusted us. Here’s a report from October 2019 including part of the video of the attack.