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Cyberbullying case: Indian diplomat's daughter gets $225,000

September 18, 2014 10:18 IST

'We have vindicated Krittika's honour, Indian diplomats' honour, and India's honour in the United States,' her attorney Ravi Batra said. George Joseph/ reports on the case.

The case filed by Krittika Biswas, an Indian diplomat's daughter, against New York City and others, for wrongful arrest and detention on cyberbullying charges, was settled, her attorney Ravi Batra said on Wednesday.

"We have vindicated Krittika's honour, Indian diplomats' honour, and India's honour in the United States," said Batra, announcing a $225,000 (Rs 1.3 crore/Rs 13 million) settlement won from New York City along with an acknowledgment that Krittika was an honour student at the time of her false arrest on February 8, 2011.

The settlement was reached three weeks after the city's appeal to dismiss the case failed in the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. The settlement signed by all parties has been forwarded to the judge for his approval.

Krittika is a student in Kolkata now.

When asked if the settlement amount is far less than deserving for an obvious civil rights violation, Batra told, "The normal amount for overnight false arrest without permanent serious injury or rape etc, with legal fees, is between $5,000 and $15,000 (Rs 305,000 and Rs 915,000)."

The New York Civil Liberties Union after ten years of litigation settled a class action case for $18 million, with $7.9 million for legal fees. Each victim got $6,400 (Rs 390,400). Here, we have achieved a stunning landslide legal victory as well as a very generous settlement for Krittika," Batra added.

He did not reveal how much Krittika will get, but said it would be a sizeable amount and tax free. His law firm gave her a large discount on its fees.

"Of course, it has required us to do a massive fee reduction, as we were approaching $500,000 in fees and the case would have run well over a million (dollars)," Batra said. "But this was not a case about making legal fees, as no cases should ever be. This case was always about redeeming Krittika's honour, and as India saw her as her daughter, redeeming India's honour, and we have achieved that hands down."

"She can now hold her head (high), as can every Indian, that in the United States Federal Court's, District as well as Second Circuit, Krittika's and India's honour was protected, vindicated. The glorious American constitution was successfully invoked by us, as her lawyers, to protect her and get her a fuller measure of justice while enhancing the warm relations between the United States and India -- a benefit both President Obama and New York City Mayor de Blasio have earned by their high-level appointments of Indian Americans," Batra said. "As a lawyer-citizen, I'm overjoyed and proud of American courts."

The city will pay the money; the other defendants are left free.

The incident occurred when Krittika was a 12th grade student at the John Bowne High School in Flushing, New York.

She was arrested February 8, 2011 after her school alleged that she had sent threatening and obscene e-mails to her calculus teacher Jamie Kim-Ross and Ivan Cohill, her gym teacher.

The real culprit, who was uncovered later, confessed to the crime, but was not criminally charged, the suit noted.

The civil suit sought at least $500,000 and $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages, respectively, as well as the termination of Howard Kwait, principal of the John Bowne High School, and teacher Jamie Kim-Ross, who retired recently.

The main defendants were the City of New York, the New York City Department of Education; Howard Kwait, who is employed by the Department of Education; Kim-Ross, a teacher employed by the DOE; Elayna Konstan, chief executive officer of the DOE Office of School and Youth Development; Margaret Maldonado, a police officer; and Larry Granshaw, another police officer.

Krittika joined the school in the 11th grade in 2009. She had differences with Kim-Ross about how many classes she would miss during a trip she was taking to India after her grandmother's death.

Kim-Ross, her math teacher, received the first threatening e-mail on November 8, 2010, and the second one on December 16. Her parents were called to the school and warned of severe consequence, even though Krittika maintained her innocence.

School officials claimed they traced the e-mail's Internet Protocol address to the apartment building where Krittika lived with her parents. Her proficiency in French added to the suspicion because the French word merde (murder) was used in the e-mail.

Kim-Ross and Cohill received two more threatening e-mails on February 6, 2011, after which the police were called in.

At the assistant principal's office, Granshaw questioned Krittika aggressively and asked her to confess to having sent the e-mails. According to the suit, the officer said that if she refused he would handcuff her and take her to 'jail with prostitutes and people with HIV.'

When Krittika did not confess, Granshaw handcuffed her tightly, so as make it extra painful for her, and continued the interrogation, the suit stated.

The next day, at the intervention of Batra, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown freed her without charges. "Judge Brown, as DA Brown is known, took the rare step to administratively dismiss all criminal charges against Krittika based upon my word -- such that Krittika never had to step into a criminal court and pled 'not guilty,' her file was 'sealed,' and she could legally say that she was never arrested," Batra noted.

Though exonerated by the legal authorities, the school insisted on more disciplinary action, suspending her in consultation with Department of Education authorities. According to the suit, Krittika was sent to a 'reform' school where 'alleged criminals' go for their constitutionally mandated education.

Later, she allegedly met the ostensible culprit who may have been upset because he had earlier been asked to leave a class as he had failed his trigonometry regents exam. But no action was taken against him and the suit noted discriminatory practices against South Asians compared to East Asians.

"Having completely won Krittika's case on the law, I advised, and Krittika agreed, with her diplomatic family's support, that in recognition of the warm relations between India and United States, that a just resolution of this case also needed to be mutually respectful in both tone and timing so as to enhance the bilateral relationship," Batra added.

"I'm happy to announce on Krittika's behalf that she joins me in thanking Judge Brown, Senator Chuck Schumer, Congressman Gary L Ackerman, the Indian-American community, everyone in India, members of the international media, Ambassadors Prabhu Dayal and Meera Shanker, and all her former classmates and teachers at John Bowne High School who gave her emotional and moral support to give her the strength."

Image: Krittika Biswas was an honour student at the John Bowne High School in Flushing, New York, at the time of her arrest on February 8, 2011. Photograph: SnapsIndia

George Joseph/ New York