Yearbook Prank Leads To Arizona Student Being Charged With 69 Counts Of Indecent Exposure

635978141058600788-T268146-03000010459498_GWe have another example of school officials and prosecutors criminalizing a school prank this week to an absurd degree. Authorities in Arizona have charged Hunter Osborn, 19, with 69 counts of indecent exposure when, on a dare from a friend, he exposed himself during a football team picture. No one noticed and it was published in the yearbook. The response is to hit this kid with dozens of criminal counts in a matter that would have previously been dealt with a suspension or inner school sanction.

We have been discussing the use of criminal charges against children for pranks and threats in recent years, including a story this week involving twelve-year-old girls in Florida and a twelve-year-old girl charged over the use of a threatening emoji in Virginia. I have long been critical of the criminalization of American society, particularly at our schools We have seen school pranks charged as crimes in high school (and here).

The matter in Arizona is another chilling example of officials, police, and prosecutors showing no judgment or perspective in dealing with a prank. Mesa Police Department spokesman Steve Berry defended the absurd charges while Mesa Public Schools spokeswoman Helen Hollands put the blame on the students. Hollands ignores the draconian response of the school and says that “The district is dismayed by the actions of the students involved in the photograph. Their behavior does not reflect the values of Red Mountain High School or Mesa Public Schools.” Really, how about the “dismay” over treating a prank like it is the equivalent to a serial rape or a homicide? What type of values prompt adults to ruin the life of some dumb kid who commits a prank in a yearbook picture? The draconian values reflected in this response are far more chilling than the juvenile actions of this student.

Osborn did not select the photo for the yearbook, which occurred due to the lack of supervision and review at the school. He merely acted like a classic thoughtless teenager in high school playing a prank.

Months went by and no one noticed as 3000 yearbooks were sold. Did he deserve punishment? Of course. Suspend him or demand payment for the printing of new yearbooks. Instead the school and the police believe that criminal charges are warranted. It sounds like the school was embarrassed by its own failure to see the problem and everyone then decided to crush this student (and ruin his life) over a prank.

The 69 charges represent the number of students who were potentially exposed. Yet, the prank was barely noticeable. The school noted that

While the small size of the photograph as published makes the details difficult to discern, the yearbook has been recalled so the school can make a minor but critical edit for the inappropriate content.

Nevertheless, Osborn was arrested Saturday and later released.

Putting aside the outcome of case, what is most disturbing is that (while students and families are supporting Osbourne), there is little effort to hold the adults at the school and the police department accountable for this ridiculous over-reaction. This is a stupid kid in high school. He was wrong but he is a teenager. We are adults. We are supposed to have a sense of perspective and even understanding. That does not mean that we do not punishment teenagers for moronic acts but we are also supposed to balance our response with understanding and restraint. These teachers and police officials ironically showed the same lack of concern and judgment for their own responses to the prank. They lacked what we would normally expect from mature and reasoned analysis of the situation. First there was the questionable need to refer this matter to the police by the school. Then the police and prosecutors abandoned any reason in piling on charges for this kid.

Osborne deserves to be disciplined at school but so do these school officials, police, and prosecutors who took an embarrassing prank and force it to an absurd and grotesque conclusion.

Kudos: Roger Schechter

39 thoughts on “Yearbook Prank Leads To Arizona Student Being Charged With 69 Counts Of Indecent Exposure

  1. It’s sickening to think that we would destroy this kid’s life over a childish prank, but that’s our society the days.

  2. Our host’s suggestion that the school officials were embarrassed was entirely the reason this student was prosecuted.

    As for the statute I suspect the state cited ARS 13-1402 which reads in pertinent part:

    13-1402. Indecent exposure; exception; classification

    A. A person commits indecent exposure if he or she exposes his or her genitals or anus or she exposes the areola or nipple of her breast or breasts and another person is present, and the defendant is reckless about whether the other person, as a reasonable person, would be offended or alarmed by the act.

    I would like to see who each of the persons the state claims are the “victims”. Could it be most of them are the football players in the photograph? How offended could they be by seeing the same dangling ding-a-ling as they did in the showers later that day?

    I have to contrast the Arizona statue with that in Washington the state must prove (as indicated by the courts) that there actually was during the time of the act someone who articulates “reasonable affront or alarm.” Someone more familiar with AZ case law should weigh in.

    With our case law, the state cannot be the victim of indecent exposure because the state cannot be offended by such an exposure alone, it must have an actual person (who is not a state actor) who must attest to the offense and even then it must be reasonable. In this incident, since the state articulated that the offense was reported to them several weeks after the incident, and that nobody came forward to report it as it happened, the state would not prevail in its prosecution. The state’s case I suspect would disappear after the defendant filed a Knapstad motion on this argument. A Knapstad motion is the WA criminal procedural equivalent of a Summary Judgment.

    It certainly did not cause alarm at the time, since it didn’t seem to be noticed even by the photographer.

    Many judges do not take kindly to prosecutors who bring ridiculous cases before them, especially junk charges such as this.

    • Since they are all facing straight ahead, no one would see it except the photographer.

      When I was in high school the tuba player for the band ‘flipped the bird’ at the bottom of his tuba as the band picture was being taken. The photography studio displayed that photo for six months while those of us in the know, chortled over getting it over on the man. This was something you could see.

  3. Ivan, the stupid people in charge of our schools! They accept students hitting teachers, students, even police. This was from a dare by other students. Are they being charged? I’ve magnified the picture and still see nothing. I think schools should concentrate on teaching. My nephew graduated from high school, but cannot read! Went unnoticed, yet we study a picture where no one can see anything. Technically he’s an adult. I hope this is dropped by prosecutor with more sense.

  4. It’s interesting. I grew up in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Teachers who physically abused students include Bruce Emberson, Earle Bennett, David Smith, Peggy Buckly, to name a few. The victims were silenced. Moreover, the bullying perpetrated by kids was rife and almost all of the adults pretended to neither see nor hear what every child heard and saw. Yet when kids acted up they were punished severely.

    Looks like it will always be the kids, but rarely the deserving adults, who are on the receiving end of the punishment.

  5. I went to a Catholic HS in the 60’s. 3 friends I played football w/ posed for the indoor track photo giving the finger. Two were pretty subtle, but it was definitely the bird; and one was pretty blatant. They got a weeks detention. Reasonable consequences. I thought we are supposed to evolve, not devolve.

  6. Several years ago there was a photo of Queen Elizabeth sitting for a portrait with the officers and men of one of the British Army regiments. One particularly stupid captain let his kilt stretch between his knees so he could expose himself for all posterity. Yes, he was ignominiously kicked out of the army. Good riddance to him.

  7. This is utterly ridiculous.

    In my day, streaking was the thing. There were always one or two teenagers who would try it at least once a year. Totally dumb, but I cannot imagine those guys getting arrested and having to register as a sex offender.

    This will ruin this young man’s life. He won’t be able to get into college, get a job, and can you imagine explaining to nice girls he wants to date that he’s a registered sex offender?

    How many kids have had their lives ruined because they chewed a Pop Tart into a gun, or did something dumb like this? There are students who bully other students to the point of suicide who get in less trouble.

    The school is utterly and completely wrong. They should have handled this matter internally with a fair punishment. You don’t ruin a boy’s life because he played a prank that didn’t harm anyone as a teenager.

  8. Did he take the picture? Did he publish the picture? Whoever took the picture and published it ought to do time for kid-porn. Including the advisor who okayed the yearbook. This is ridiculous…litterally making a mountain out of a mole hill. And the prosecuter coming up with 69 charges….must be a sicko.

  9. The charges have been dropped. The other 69 people in the picture refused to agree to charges. Kudos to all of them, especially the staff, for taking a stand. This will, however, be on the Internet forever. He should demand a letter from the school about a bogus crime. In case a prospective employer brings this incident up. High school boys do dumb things,mit’s called Puberty!

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