Told to investigate “sexting” at his Virginia high school, an assistant principal spent $150,000 defending himself from child pornography charges because he kept the evidence — a photo of a semi-nude girl found on a boy’s cell phone — on his computer. Wired has the story:
Ting-Yi Oei, a 60-year-old assistant principal at Freedom High School in South Riding, Virginia was told to see if students were exchanging sexy photos on their cell phones. He found only one example: A boy showed him a photo of a topless girl with her arms folded in front of her breasts.
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.
. . . Oei and the school security specialist interviewed more students, but were unable to find additional pictures or identify the girl in the photo.
When the boy who’d had the photo got in trouble for something else, his mother blamed Oei and called the police.
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.
Loudoun County prosecutor James Plowman demanded that Oei resign. When the veteran educator refused, Plowman filed felony charges of child pornography, which could have put Oei in prison for five years and labeled him a sex offender for life.
Warned that their house could be searched, (Oei’s wife Diana) Curling went through the family photos to see if there were any baby pictures of their now-grown children in a state of undress. “Heaven forbid that a parent might think it was cute for a baby to play in a bubble bath and there might be an inappropriate part showing,” she says. “Luckily all of our rubber-ducky baby photos had the children covered in bath bubbles or something.”
After a year of hell, a judge threw out all the charges, saying the photo wasn’t pornographic. The prosecutor is unrepentant.