Woodland Hills teen secretly recorded school officials before, police say
A Woodland Hills High School student who made a controversial recording of his principal that was released this week has a history of secretly recording school officials, Churchill police told the Tribune-Review.
Chief Allen Park said police charged the 14-year-old student with violating Pennsylvania's wiretap law because of a recording authorities said he made in September during a meeting with school officials.
Park said the meeting was intended to mediate a dispute with another student. The teen recorded the September meeting without permission and disseminated the audio on Facebook, Park said.
“That caused a stir,” Park said, which led police to file the petition against the teen in Allegheny County Juvenile Court.
The teen is a special education student and has an individualized educational plan, his attorney told the Trib on Wednesday.
The teen is involved in a separate controversy involving recordings that prompted administrators this week to suspend high school Principal Kevin Murray.
In those recordings, which were made in April, school administrators said Murray can be heard saying to the teen, “I'll punch you right in your face, dude,” and “I'll knock your (expletive) teeth down your throat.”
In another portion of the recording, he tells the teen he would prevail in court.
“When we go down to court, it's your word versus mine. And mine wins every time.”
Attorney Todd Hollis, who represents the teen and his mother, confirmed the wiretapping charge. Hollis said the teen recorded a school counselor who was interrogating him about a homicide involving one of his friends.
“The child was being questioned and taped it as proof for his mother,” Hollis said. “Interrogating a 14-year-old without a parent being present doesn't sound right to me. We will deal with that.”
The allegations against Murray led District Superintendent Alan Johnson to place him on administrative leave Wednesday during an investigation. Johnson said he doesn't condone the language in the recording.
Park, the Churchill chief, said it's illegal in Pennsylvania to record someone without permission.
Mike Manko, a spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., said the office has been in contact with Churchill Police.
“It's important to note that cases involving potential violations of the wiretap act are complicated,” Manko said in an email. “We will be detailing our own detectives to assist them. We are hopeful that the additional work will only take a couple of days after which District Attorney Zappala will inform the public about the investigation.”
Park also questioned why the April recordings are only now coming to light.
“If he was in fear for his life why not bring it to us in April?” Park said.
Hollis said the timing is irrelevant. He said the teen recorded Murray, apparently with a phone, because his mother did not initially believe her son's version of events.
“He was threatened,” Hollis said. “It doesn't matter if it happened in April or May or June.”
He said school administrators and investigators cannot ignore the recordings.
“If you convict this child of this crime knowing he did this to protect himself from abusive adult behavior, the court system is as culpable as individuals who threatened him,” he said.
Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or email@example.com.