Mimesis Law
18 October 2019

Iowa Prosecutor Ed Bull Wants To Raise Your Kids For You

October 7, 2016 (Fault Lines) – Kids and their sexting. Now that every 12-year-old on the street has a smartphone, the world is their oyster. And giving that power to kids who can still barely feed themselves leads to the expected problems. Like putting zero thought into communications which are now easily saved and spread for all the world to see.

Nancy Doe*, a 14-year-old Iowa girl, finds herself in the crosshairs of the Marion County Attorney’s Office after sending racy pictures of herself to another student. I use the term “racy” because that’s the only one that really works here. Not nude, not sexual, not pornographic. Just racy.

Police, who typically handle these matters as clumsily as possible, became involved earlier this year.

The photos were gathered by law enforcement earlier this year amid a “sexting” investigation that uncovered nude and semi-nude photos sent by several male and female students at the high school. Sexting involves sending sexually explicit photographs or messages via cell phone or other mobile devices.

The photos came to light earlier this year when two male students were caught printing photos in the Knoxville High School library.

There may be some who approve of this kind of law enforcement activity. If the police watch our kids for us, parenting is a whole lot easier. Nancy’s parents, on the other hand, want to handle their kid on their own. And they are willing to sue over it. The lawsuit sheds some more light on the situation, as well as revealing why Nancy’s parents are willing to make a federal case out of it.

After the two kids were busted printing the pictures at the library, the school got involved. That makes sense. This certainly seems like the kind of situation a school should report to parents. A guidance counselor met with Nancy’s mother and informed her they had found “inappropriate pictures” of her daughter, but would not show them to her. Rather than handle a school matter as a school matter, the guidance counselor told Nancy’s mom the whole thing was being turned over to the police department.

Nancy’s parents, obviously upset, confronted her. She admitted to sending the pictures, but insisted they were not sexually explicit and did not contain nudity. She had deleted the photos by this point. Her parents, being good parents, took her phone away and told her they would talk to her later about the situation.

Iowa’s Knoxville Police Department had other ideas. Calling Nancy’s parents about a “sexting” investigation, investigators asked to interview the girl. While her parents were willing to speak to investigators, they told police and the school not to speak to Nancy alone. When the parents met with investigators, the photos were finally shown. Reason.com describes why the parents may have been a little surprised after the big reveal.

Making matters significantly worse, the pictures in question can hardly be described as child pornography, Doe’s family argues in its lawsuit against Marion County Attorney Ed Bull. In one photo, she was wearing boy shorts and a sports bra. In the other, she had removed the bra but her hair was fully covering her breasts.

Doe’s own parents described the pictures as “less ‘racy’ than photographs they see in fashion magazines and on television every day.” They wonder if she could have been prosecuted for taking a picture of herself in her swimsuit—such a picture would have probably been even more revealing than the alleged ‘sexts.’

The parents were obviously confused about the police involvement. The picture may have warranted some parental intervention, but a criminal investigation was overkill. Nudity or sex is kind of the point of sexting. Without either, pictures are just pictures. Unfortunately, the police involvement was just the beginning.

A few weeks later, Juvenile Court informed them that Doe was accused of “Sexual Exploitation of a Minor.”

The court was apparently pursuing investigations against a number of kids involved in the swapping of sexy text messages at Knoxville High. The kids and all their parents were asked to meet with Bull, the County Attorney, on May 24. The Does did not attend—they had a prior conflict, were skeptical that the meeting could change their mind about their daughter’s innocence, and didn’t want to expose her to public shaming or ridicule.

There is always the hope at this point in a story some government official will wake up and realize things have gone too far. Not Ed Bull. The Marion County Attorney decided to double down.

Bull offered all of the kids involved a deal. First, though, a little slut-shaming. Bull told the young ladies present it was not lady-like to send explicit photos to boys. The consequences? At least he didn’t give out scarlet letters, but he had a weapon even worse: the sex offender registry. Bull threatened the kids with criminal charges for sexual exploitation of a minor and a lifetime sex offender registry.

Like most prosecutorial threats, Bull offered an out. Admit guilt, give up laptops and cellphones, and engage in community service. Oh, and complete a reeducation class. In exchange, Bull would allow their cases to be dismissed through a pretrial diversion program.

Nancy’s parents couldn’t get the prosecutor to understand her pictures didn’t warrant criminal charges. So they lawyered up. Which triggered a pissing contest with Bull, who insisted Nancy could take the diversion deal or be charged criminally. For sexual exploitation…of herself.

The quickest way to stop a bully is to punch him right in the nose. But you shouldn’t punch the County Attorney in the nose. So Nancy’s parents did the next best thing. They sued him. In a federal lawsuit alleging violations of the First Amendment and Due Process, Nancy and her parents are taking Bull to task over threatening to prosecute her for perfectly legal pictures. And using prosecution powers to force Nancy and her parents to submit their family affairs to the supervision of a county attorney.

The ability to immediately take a picture and pass it along to another kid is a relatively new thing. Police are understandably not sure how to deal with it. But in this case, there have been multiple opportunities for law enforcement to pull its head out of its ass and act reasonably.

Instead, a county attorney has stuck to his guns and insists on sitting down at the Does’ dinner table and handling their parenting for them. The parents, to their credit, have placed severe restrictions on Nancy’s social media and cell phone use. The pictures she took were probably not in the best judgment, but that’s her parents’ business. Not the school’s, not the county attorney’s, and not ours.

Instead of allowing her parents to deal with their kid, which they did anyway, Bull made this a criminal case. And finds himself on the other end of a lawsuit that he completely deserves.

Sadly, once again, the insistence that police handle parenting has led to another lesson lost for our kids.

* Not her real name, of course. Her parents have done a good job keeping her identity anonymous.

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  • Ross
    9 October 2016 at 9:18 am - Reply

    The best comment from the Reason piece:

    Next up: 13-year-old boy arrested for molesting himself in masturbation marathon, “All his socks were stiff and crunchy” wails distraught mother

    which neatly sums up the stupidity of the prosecutor in this case.