No Charges in Sexting Scandal Where Pics Were Traded Like Pokemon Cards

Additional images and a video below.
Additional images and a video below.

Update: Last month, we told you about a sexting scandal at Canon City High School.

A football game was cancelled after reports about the widespread nature of sexting among students was made public — the fear being that there wouldn't have been enough uninvolved players to field a full squad — and the school's administration floated threats of felony charges against participants.

In our previous coverage, on view below, we quoted Amy Hasinoff, a CU Denver professor and author of a book entitled Sexting Panic. Hasinoff is critical of law enforcement attempts to criminalize behavior like sexting, deeming it counter-productive for, among other things, the way it treats potential perpetrators and victims in the same way.

In this case, however, cooler heads appear to have prevailed. Even though the sexting reports went national, district attorney Thom LeDoux has decided against charging any of the participants with a crime.

And there were a lot of participants.

District Attorney Thom LeDoux at yesterday's press conference.
District Attorney Thom LeDoux at yesterday's press conference.

At a press conference covered by KRDO, LeDoux revealed that 351 photos featuring at least 106 identified students were found on three confiscated phones.

LeDoux noted that some of the students referred to the photos as "Pokemon cards" because of the way they were being traded.

However, LeDoux added that the investigation failed to reveal aggravating factors that would have led to criminal charges. Those presumably include coercion or the sharing of photos in ways meant to harm or belittle those pictured.

If the students involved are caught distributing such photos again, LeDoux hinted that their behavior could be viewed as such a factor. But for now, the only thing they'll be receiving is a letter from the DA stressing the seriousness of the matter and warning them against taking part in sexting again.

Look below to see KRDO's report, followed by our previous coverage.

Original post, 8:02 a.m. November 5: Earlier this year, we interviewed Amy Hasinoff, a CU Denver communications professor and the author of Sexting Panic, a book highly critical of the way our society deals with the sexting phenomenon — often by criminalizing teens who take part in the activity.

Additional images below.
Additional images below.
File photo

"One of the reasons we have such terrible teen-sexting laws is that people think any girl who would do this must be deviant or mentally ill or pathological," Hasinoff told us. "And that really denies the reality that teenagers are sexting. And it's not just a couple of them."

That certainly appears to be true at Canon City High School.

A community announcement credited to Canon City School District Superintendent George Welsh reveals that "a number of our students have engaged in behavior where they take and pass along pictures of themselves that expose private parts of their bodies or their undergarments."

Canon City High School.
Canon City High School.
Google Maps

Participants are said to include members of the CCHS football team, whose final game for 2015, scheduled to take place this Saturday, has been cancelled, reportedly because there might not have been enough players who definitely weren't involved to field a full squad.

We've reproduced Welsh's letter in its entirety below, but here's an excerpt that outlines the possible law-enforcement consequences of sexting:

The matter has been turned over to the Cañon City Police Department who explain the legal issues involved as follows: A person can be charged with a class 3 felony if they have taken a picture of themselves showing a naked private body part and sent it to another person, have received such a picture and forwarded it to another person, or have received such a picture and retained possession of it over time. Police representatives have said the primary focus of their investigation will be to determine if any adults were involved, and to determine whether any photos were coerced. Formal charges will be determined by the DA's office.

In Hasinoff's view, these laws potentially create more problems than they solve.

Amy Hasinoff.
Amy Hasinoff.
University of Colorado Denver

From a criminal perspective, she told us this past February, "sexting can be treated as child pornography, which is a really harsh crime to be charged with and the penalties are huge," Hasinoff notes. "And it seems illogical to me that the child pornography laws don't make a distinction about whether the sexting was consensual or not.

"You can be sending a sext to your partner with consent and be charged with child pornography — and then, if your partner sends it to friends or so forth, that person can be charged with child pornography, too. But in the first case, the partner is presumably happy to get that image, and in the second case, the person is maliciously violating the first person's privacy."

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The difference in these intentions is key, Hasinoff feels. "Laws in a lot of states essentially say that whether you sext with consent or with malicious intent, we're going to give you the same penalty. And studies have shown that about 30 percent of teenagers sext. So we're talking about something that's essentially normal for about a third of teens and turning it into child pornography."

More immediately, the Canon City High School Tigers' season was terminated one week early due to the situation. Coach Tom O'Rourke tells the Canon City Daily Record the game was canceled because "we've decided to err on the side of caution instead of getting caught after the fact that we knew ahead of time, played these kids, then there was a problem."

A screen capture from a 2013 interview with Canon City High School football coach Tom O'Rourke.
A screen capture from a 2013 interview with Canon City High School football coach Tom O'Rourke.

Still, he regrets the de facto punishment against those who didn't take part in sexting — particularly seniors whose high school gridiron career is now over.

"I feel as badly as I could feel about anything," he said in his Daily Record interview. "I told them that — that I know that there were kids that were not involved...and to the bottom of my heart I apologized.

"Obviously, that's the not the way anybody wanted the season to end," he conceded, adding, "Kids are kids and they're going to make stupid mistakes. We were all kids, and we all made stupid mistakes. This one's up there."

Whether any or all of these teens should face felony charges for such a mistake is another question entirely.

No Charges in Sexting Scandal Where Pics Were Traded Like Pokemon Cards (7)EXPAND
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Here's the aforementioned community announcement, originally shared on the school district's Facebook page.

It has come to the attention of the Cañon City School District that a number of our students have engaged in behavior where they take and pass along pictures of themselves that expose private parts of their bodies or their undergarments.

This was discovered on Monday November 2nd as a result of a preliminary investigation in response to student reports and anonymous tips received through Colorado’s Safe2Tell system.

The matter has been turned over to the Cañon City Police Department who explain the legal issues involved as follows: A person can be charged with a class 3 felony if they have taken a picture of themselves showing a naked private body part and sent it to another person, have received such a picture and forwarded it to another person, or have received such a picture and retained possession of it over time. Police representatives have said the primary focus of their investigation will be to determine if any adults were involved, and to determine whether any photos were coerced. Formal charges will be determined by the DA's office.

Because a large number of our high school football players were implicated in this behavior the coaching staff and administration, after careful thought and consideration, decided that stepping on the field to play this weekend to represent the Cañon City community is just not an option. We realize this decision will unfairly penalize many of our fine young men who clearly did not participate in these actions. However, we concluded it was impossible to safely field an entire team representative of the personal qualities and characteristics that truly represent the history of the Cañon City High School football program.

In making this decision we made sure our actions would not hinder the police investigation, and were advised they would not. However, no matter what the police investigation uncovers the Cañon City School District will hold its students accountable for their actions as outlined in district policies relating to cyber bullying, sexual harassment, and irresponsible behavior.

Additionally, we recognize that as a district we will need to take a close look at how, or if, this incident should affect student activities participants who were involved but who are not currently in the midst of an athletic season or event.

Most importantly, the Canon City School District recognizes the need to formally address the 21st Century skill that all citizens use technology in a legal and ethical fashion. In the coming weeks the district will build a plan to further educate children regarding these concepts. Additionally, we highly encourage all parents to discuss this emerging issue related to modern technology directly with their children.

Questions and concerns about this matter can be directed to the CCSD Administration Building at 719-276-5705.



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