Oregon’s Yamhill County is taking steps toward doing something we all support, which is to put as many teenagers in jail as possible. Unfortunately, the charges they’re using to justify the incarcerations are getting weaker, as police recently arrested two junior high students for smacking girls’ bottoms in the hallways of their school.
This is against the law now?! Someone better tell Gen. Halftrack in “Beetle Bailey”!
The boys, Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison, both 13, spent five days in juvenile hall thanks to what is apparently a zero-tolerance policy regarding horseplay. Slap a butt, go to jail. The boys will go to trial — an actual, honest-to-goodness court trial — later this month.
And what are the criminal charges? Five counts each of misdemeanor sexual abuse, and five counts each of harassment. Lesser charges of felony roughhousing and second-degree monkey business were dismissed.
If you think it all sounds like a huge overreaction to what was just ordinary adolescent stupidity, you’re not alone. The general public agrees, and the district attorney’s office has had hundreds of letters telling them to drop the charges and quit with the overzealous prosecution already. More than $15,000 in donations to the boys’ legal defense fund has been contributed, too.
In fact, even the attorney for two of the girls believes this shouldn’t be a criminal matter. “Our position has always been this should have been handled internally by the school,” is what attorney William Brandt told The Oregonian. It might sound like Mr. Brandt is surprisingly logical and rational for a lawyer, but not so fast: The reason he doesn’t think it should be a criminal matter is that he’d rather just sue the school. He says school officials failed to protect his young clients from “assault and battery in the form of sexual touching.” Never mind that officials responded as soon as a teacher’s aide noticed the behavior, and suspended the two boys. What they SHOULD have done was see into the future and stop the boys before they acted. What the school needs, really, is some of those albino psychics who lie in bathtubs in “Minority Report.” Sadly, however, our public schools lack the funds necessary to hire fictional precognitive characters. Darn that George Bush and his reduced education spending!
The slap-happy boys’ crime spree occurred in February, when they declared it to be “Slap-Butt Day” at Patton Middle School, then went around celebrating that festive holiday in the traditional fashion, i.e., slapping people on the butt. Other students — including some girls — joined in on the bottom-swatting fun, and a merry time was had by all.
Well, not by all. Some girls evidently were upset, or else became upset when their litigious parents heard about it, or else were convinced to become upset when a lawyer with dollar signs in his eyes showed up on the front porch with legal documents in one hand and a bag of candy in the other. Whatever the sequence of events was, the two boys were arrested, hauled off to juvie, and must now stand trial. If convicted, they would face up to 10 years in juvenile detention and a lifetime of being registered sex offenders. They’ll also be forever known among their peers as The Boys Who Went to Jail for Touching a Girl.
(By the way, how would you like to be the cop who has to respond to that call? All those months of training and years of police experience, and this is what you’re reduced to. “All available units respond to Patton Middle School. Two 13-year-old suspects, white males, spanking girls’ bottoms. Proceed with caution. Suspects are believed to be armed and frisky.”)
In its defense, the school has pointed out that the day in question was not actually Slap-Butt Day, and that the kids’ observances were thus seasonally inappropriate. The real Slap-Butt Day, of course, is Aug. 19 and is also known as Bill Clinton’s birthday.
I should also mention that when the boys were interrogated by the vice principal and a cop, they admitted that in the past they had cupped or poked a girl’s boobular area as well. Two of the charges against each boy stem from that, and not just from the crime of butt-slapping.
Granted, you shouldn’t go around honking girls’ bazooms, but come on. Being arrested? Going to trial? I’m not always a fan of the “boys will be boys” excuse, but I think it applies in this case. It would be different if they were adults who were swatting teenage girls. For example, if I were to walk into a middle school and start slapping kids on the butt, it would make sense to arrest me. In fact, I would insist upon it. But these were kids, playfully (albeit ill-advisedly) harassing other kids. They got carried away in their hormonal silliness, they invaded some girls’ personal space, and they should be reprimanded and told to cut it out. Anything beyond that is excessive.
But it does raise some interesting questions. Namely, what if the district attorney’s office started treating all acts of juvenile stupidity as criminal offenses? I foresee court cases such as these:
§The People v. Tyler R.
¶The defendant is accused of administering wedgies, swirlies, and purple nurples to multiple victims.
§The People v. Kyle M.
¶During a game of playground tag, the defendant is accused of immediately tagging the person who had just tagged him, despite the previously established rule of “no tag-backs.”
§The People v. Madison L.
¶The defendant is accused of telling Kylie what Rachel said Hailey had told her, even though Rachel totally made her swear not to.
§The People v. Jason K.
¶The defendant is accused of lighting his farts on fire during a party at Bryan’s house.
But now we’re just being silly.
The incident took place at Patton Middle School. I was going to include a "giving girls a Patton the butt" joke, but I decided I was above such wordplay.
The specific city where it happened is McMinnville, about 40 miles southwest of Portland. The Oregonian first wrote about the case a few weeks ago, and the story soon circulated nationwide. (You can see an Oregonian video story here.) Not that I wouldn't necessarily write a column about something strictly local to where I live, but it helps that it became a national story, too.
For further enlightenment on the subject of sexual harassment, I recommend the "Simpsons" episode "Homer Badman," from Season 6, in which Homer's attempt to remove a particularly succulent piece of candy from the back of the babysitter's jeans results in mistaken sexual harassment claims. It really is the preeminent treatise on this subject.
UPDATE: The district attorney eventually dropped the sexual abuse charges against the boys, which eliminated the possibility they'd be registered sex offenders. The misdemeanor harassment charges were eventually dismissed, too. The boys paid a fine and apologized to the girls.