Anna Ayers, a student at Ohio University and a member of the OU student senate, recently caused an uproar at the university after saying that she received threatening messages, including a death threat, due to being part of the LGBTQ community. Police now say that Ayers made the entire thing up and have arrested her for “making false alarms.” That wording seemed a bit curious so I went to the state code, which indeed has a provision that departs from the usual language of a false police report. Ayers is a journalism major at OU.
She wrote up her account in an article in The Post, a student-run newspaper, and said that she received a note that “expressed extreme hatred… because of who I am.” There was an outpouring of support and calls for investigations while Ayers continued to accept the support as helpful “during a pretty awful time.”
The police reported that “Ayers previously reported receiving a series of threatening messages, two of them in the Student Senate office, and one of them at her residence” and subsequent investigation by OUPD found that Ayers had placed the messages herself, prior to reporting them.”
That brings us to the criminal code.
“2917.32 Making false alarms.
(1) Initiate or circulate a report or warning of an alleged or impending fire, explosion, crime, or other catastrophe, knowing that the report or warning is false and likely to cause public inconvenience or alarm;
(2) Knowingly cause a false alarm of fire or other emergency to be transmitted to or within any organization, public or private, for dealing with emergencies involving a risk of physical harm to persons or property;
Ayers clearly initiated and circulate a report of a crime knowing that it would “cause public inconvenience or alarm.” I just find it interesting to have this crime separate from the standard false police report charge. However, the reason appears to be a desire to snag those who do not actually go to the police under provision three, but still circulate a false account.
The concern is what constitutes initiating or circulating a false report. That would seem to include statements on the Internet or chat rooms where police allege a person knew that they were circulating a false story capable of causing “inconvenience or alarm.” That could present threat to some speech or speaker targeted by the government. It could come down to allegations of what constitutes knowledge of falsity. If police deny the underlying facts, is that enough for a reporter or a critic to be on notice of falsity? Notably, there does not need to be an intent to cause alarm or inconvenience. It is only required that it is “likely” to cause some ill-defined “inconvenience.”
This is a misdemeanor punishable with up to a year in jail.
I think that, if the allegations against her are proven, she should be expelled given the disruption to the school and the damage down to legitimate victims in this community who have real threats to report. I am less certain about the criminal punishment angle. I would not be inclined to impose jail time while certainly securing a conviction in the case.
What do you think should be the criminal punishment, if any?