We 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