But Kim Zetter's story at Wired about the ordeal of Virginia vice-principal Ting-Yi Oei, who was assigned to check out rumors of rampant sexting at Freedom High School in South Riding.
Ironically, horribly, the assignment led to a Kafkaesque charge that Oei himself was a child pornographer. He spent $150,000 and year of his life clearing his name. Whether he can resurrect his career as an educator is yet to be seen.
"These charges are so toxic and incendiary," says Diane Curling, a former teacher and Oei's wife of 35 years. "Children need to be made aware of the dangers of sexting, but to intimidate public education officials and try to make it a felony to even touch something like this is terrifying. . . . If we are not careful, we will find ourselves with a new McCarthy era."Oei's investigation led him to a 16-year-old boy who confessed to having a sext on his phone - a pic of a girl in panties but with her arms crossed across her chest.
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.Since the girl couldn't be identified and was apparently not a student, Oei thought the matter was over. But when the boy was busted trying to pull a girl's pants down and was given a 10-day suspension, the shit hit the fan when the boy's mother learned of the photo incident. Oei refused to lift the suspension and the mom went to the cops.
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.
Of course, he hadn't been able to identifiy the girl, so how would he alert her parents? Loudoun County prosecutor James Plowman didn't take that excuse and instead threatened Oei with a felony if he didn't resign.
"We just feel very strongly that this is not someone who should be in the Loudoun County school system," Plowman's assistant explained to reporters. Oei refused, and on August 11, a grand jury indicted him for possession of child porn, a crime that carries a possible sentence of five years. The misdemeanor charge was dropped.There were even more charges piled on. Read Kim's story for the whole gory matter. But this week a judge put an end to the madness -- and for Oei it must have felt like Joe McCarthy finally being silenced.
Last month, Oei's defense attorney, Steven Stone, filed a motion to dismiss the charges on the grounds that the photo didn't constitute child pornography. In a ruling on Tuesday, Loudoun Circuit Court Judge Thomas Horne agreed. Citing a long history of state appeals court decisions, Horne noted that nudity alone is not enough to qualify an image as child pornography. The image must be "sexually explicit" and "lewd."
"As a matter of law, the photograph does not meet the requirements established by our appellate courts and the felony charge will be dismissed," the judge wrote. "[T]he two misdemeanor counts will be dismissed as well."
The prosecutor is unrepentant.
"The issue of whether it meets the definition under the statute ... goes to whether it is lewd," he says. "This one I felt was [lewd] because of the focus of the picture, which was the private areas ... and the provocative pose she was in. The judge felt it didn't meet the precedent case law for child pornography, but it was apparently provocative enough of a photograph that he saw fit that it should be sealed."
Oei should have resigned, Plowman insisted.
"I thought that was a just and appropriate sanction for his behavior," he says. "But he was unwilling to be responsible for any kind of accountability for what he did."