This is the face of one of the most dangerous people in the US: a power-mad prosecutor with an inflated sense of his own morality. His name is Jim Plowman and he's the Loudon County, VA, Commonwealth's attorney. Think I'm exaggerating? He tried to have a 60 year old assistant principal put in jail on child pornography charges because the assistant principal was doing his job.
Of course, this is tied into the fear-du-jour of the sexually-repressed set--"sexting," or the sending of naughty pictures of oneself via mobile phone cameras. It's been in the news a lot lately because there's finally been some pushback--a federal judge in Pennsylvania told another out-of-control prosecutor that he couldn't press child porn charges against 3 teenaged girls, and the public response to other cases has been fairly vocal as well.
The problem, of course, is that laws haven't kept up with technology, and neither has our social evolution. If horny teenagers have access to mobile phones with cameras, chances are they're going to do some exploring, and if any of the people who receive those pictures are a) douchebags or b) susceptible to peer pressure (which covers just about the entire population), then those pictures are going to get spread around.
But what makes this story particularly egregious is that the person who was prosecuted wasn't a person who was involved in the experimentation. He was the guy trying to find out who was involved in the whole thing.
Oei's problems began in March of last year, when his investigation of sexting rumors at Freedom High led him to a 16-year-old boy. Oei and the school's safety and security specialist met with the student to ask if he knew anything about the photos.Sorry to excerpt such a long section, but you really need to get the whole story to understand just how stupid this whole prosecution was. But wait, there's more.
"He says, 'Oh yeah, I've got one on my cell phone,'" Oei recalls.
The image depicted only the torso of a girl -- later determined to be a 17-year old student -- wearing only underpants, her arms mostly covering her breasts. The boy claimed he didn't know who sent him the photo or who the girl was.
Oei says he showed the image to his boss, Principal Christine Forester, who told him to preserve a copy on his office computer for the investigation. A computer neophyte, Oei didn't know how to transfer the image from the boy's cell phone, so the teen sent the picture to Oei's phone, and told him how to forward it to his work e-mail address. When the process was complete, Oei instructed the student to delete the image from his phone.
Oei and the school security specialist interviewed more students, but were unable to find additional pictures or identify the girl in the photo. Oei concluded she probably wasn't a student at the school. Relieved, he says he reported his findings to the principal, thinking the matter was done.
He couldn't have been more wrong.
Two weeks later, the boy caught with the photo was in trouble again -- he'd pulled down the pants of a girl in class. The school suspended the student for 10 days. But when the boy's mother learned from Oei about the earlier photo incident, she was outraged that Oei hadn't reported the picture to her. She called his house at 7:00 a.m., screaming at him that the suspension had to be revoked.
When Oei refused, the woman went to the police about the photo. Sheriff's investigators came to the school, ostensibly to investigate the sexting issue. They helped the technologically-challenged Oei recover the photo from his cell phone and later determined the girl in the photo was a student at the school.
A month later, the first charges were filed against Oei: failure to report suspicion of child abuse, a misdemeanor. The charge alleged that Oei had a legal duty to report the girl's photo to her parents, and to state agencies or law enforcement.
"First of all, nobody thought this was reportable," Oei says. "Who would have thought this was suspected child abuse?"
Oei also hadn't known the girl's identity and therefore wasn't able to notify her parents.
Four months later, Plowman charged Oei with two more misdemeanor counts for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, claiming Oei broke the law when he had the 16-year-old boy send the photo to his cell phone and advise him on how to then forward it to his desktop computer. Each count added another year to his possible prison term.And Plowman to this day defends the prosecution."He would have been satisfied with a fine, probation and Oei's resignation. The case would never have gone this far, he says, if Oei had resigned when asked."
I don't generally go here on my blog anymore, but seriously, fuck you Jim Plowman. Fuck you for your abuse of power, fuck you for your misplaced sense of outrage, fuck you for doing untold damage to an innocent person all in pursuit of some ridiculous personal vendetta over an image of a seventeen year old girl's torso. I hope the pain you visited upon this man comes back on your head one day. You deserve it.