Crime or bad judgment? That’s the question law enforcement officials are forced to ask themselves whenever they’re faced with a strange situation — is it wrong or just plain weird? Read these cases and judge for yourself…
Darren Kersey, 28, was part of the homeless community trying to get by in Sarasota, Florida. He had lost his home (and all his outlets), but he still had his cell phone, which he would power up at a picnic spot in Gillespie Park. On the night of November 11, 2012, police arrested Kersey having caught him red-handed in the act of phone-charging. Kersey was charged with Theft of Utilities and thrown in jail. In his arrest report, the officer noted “theft of city utilities will not be tolerated during this bad economy.”
Kersey couldn’t amass the $500 necessary for his release, so he spent the night in lock-up. Luckily that’s all he had to do to make amends for his wanton phone-charging. The next morning Judge Charles Williams threw out the case, claiming there was no legal justification for an arrest.
Conflict between the Sarasota PD and the local homeless is not uncommon, with some critics accusing officers of “bum hunting”. A month later on January 17, 2013, police arrested Jon Hill, 31 for soliciting and obstructing officers without violence — even though the local ordinance prohibiting panhandling had been repealed 10 days before. Despite that fact, Hill spent the weekend in jail unable to raise the $870 required to make bail.
In La Porte, Texas, they take parenthood seriously. Tammy Cooper let her kids (6 and 9 years old) zip around on their scooters for a few hours as she watched from a lawn chair on the sidewalk. She was getting the kids ready for bed when La Porte police officers arrived at the home and told her a neighbor had reported the children were rolling around the street unsupervised — and then arrested Cooper for child endangerment.
Cooper sat in jail for 18 hours until the charges were dropped. Now she’s filed suit against the La Porte police officer and the neighbor who called them, seeking damages for the legal fees and stress that arose from the incident.
It was May 31, 2011, the last day of the school year, when surveillance cameras saw a person wearing a hoodie and gloves bring a package into Rushville Consolidated High School and then run out five minutes later without it. School officials called in the police to check the building for danger. What the K9 unit found was a blow-up sex doll in a bathroom stall.
The whole thing was a senior prank by Tyell Morton, 18, but the joke seemed to be on him when prosecutors charged him with institutional criminal mischief and disorderly conduct — the former a felony that might have landed Morton in prison for 2-8 years.
Perhaps Indiana prosecutors do have a sense of humor — they ultimately agreed to drop the felony count altogether and to dismiss the misdemeanor in exchange for Morton doing community service and staying out of trouble. No word on what happened to the doll.
On December 2, 2011 an undercover DEA agent walked into ReLeaf Health and Wellness medical marijuana dispensary in Anaheim and bought 4.2 grams of pot for $37. Even though marijuana dispensaries are legal in the State of California, such businesses have been banned in Anaheim since 2007. In August 2012, the DEA filed an asset-forfeiture lawsuit in an attempt to seize the $1.5 million building that housed ReLeaf.
The wrinkle here is that the proprietors of ReLeaf didn’t own the property where their store was located. The 12-suite office building belongs to an older professional couple (he’s an engineer; she’s a dentist) with no connection to the marijuana game. In fact the couple evicted ReLeaf as soon as the suit was filed against them. The couple’s names have not been released because the husband holds a government security clearance.
As of this writing, the DEA has yet to back down on taking the older couple’s property. At a recent hearing in December, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Guilford asked U.S. Attorney Greg Parham if he was still seeking the forfeiture of the building. Parham replied, “Yes, absolutely, your honor.”
As a general rule, it is legal to photograph random people in public as there is no expectation of privacy. That is, unless you’re doing it in for the wrong reasons. Tyler, Texas, resident Dennis Brown, 55, was arrested for felony improper photography or visual recording for snapping photos of people in a public space.
The photos Brown took back on August 9, 2012 depicted fully-clothed unsuspecting women hiking and playing volleyball in public. The legal problem arose when Brown told officers he was taking the photos for his own sexual gratification. That admission of motive turned a hobby into a criminal case. As the Texas Penal Code defines it, it was photographing “without the other person’s consent and with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.”
When police in Westlake, Louisiana, got word of a rape they sprang into action — but the perpetrator in this case was a 1-year-old basset hound named Donte. Neighbors called police and directed them to the home of Yvette Richard, Donte’s owner. Richard accepted the ticket for disobeying a city ordinance against loose dogs, admitting that Donte had figured out how to burrow out of his fenced enclosure and get into the neighbors’ yard. But it wasn’t until she read the ticket that she realized that Donte had been accused of rape: “this dog breed another dog unwanted,” read the note on the citation. “I want to know who gets registered as a sex offender… me or the dog,” Richard joked to a local reporter in January 2013.
In these crazy times, any threat of school shooting must be taken seriously. That said, on January 10, 2013, when a five-year-old girl told a classmate she would shoot her and then shoot herself, school administrators might have done a little more digging before suspending her for 10 days and branding her a “terrorist threat.” The gun she was referring to was a harmless device that shoots bubbles.
The Pennsylvania girl’s family insists she’s never fired a real gun and hired a lawyer to plead their side against the Mount Carmel Area School District. The school reduced the suspension to two days for threatening to harm another student.