Two years ago I commented on the shocking case of Connecticut teacher Julie Amero who was charged with corrupting her students by allowing them to view pornography on a school computer. Initially convicted of several counts of abusing minors and facing 40 years in the slammer, she and her lawyers managed to get the conviction set aside and finally, in November of last year, she pleaded guilty to a charge of ... disorderly conduct. I suspect that she did that just so she could finally bring an end to the whole thing and get on with her life.
Now there's an even more egregious case of prosecutorial misconduct involving another professional educator, this time in Loudon County, Virginia:
It was an incident that began innocently enough, but nearly ruined the life and three-decade career of a veteran high school teacher and administrator.Even the police investigating the case stated that the image in question -- one single image -- the torso of an apparently underage girl (it was later established that she was 17) wearing only underpants and covering her breasts with her arms did not rise to -- or fall to -- the level of "child pornography".
Rumors had been flying at Freedom High School in South Riding, Virginia that students were distributing nude pictures of each other on their cell phones. It's a phenomenon, known as "sexting," that's become increasingly worrisome to educators across the country, and Ting-Yi Oei, a 60-year-old assistant principal at the school, was tasked with checking it out.
The investigation was inconclusive, but led to a stunning aftermath: Oei himself was charged with possession of child pornography and related crimes -- charges that threatened to brand him a sex offender and land him in prison for up to seven years. Transferred from his school and isolated from colleagues, Oei spent $150,000 and a year of his life defending himself in a Kafkaesque legal nightmare triggered by a determined county prosecutor and nurtured by a growing hysteria over technology-enabled child porn at America's schools.
"The heaviest burden is the [label] of 'child pornographer'," Oei says. "It just hangs so heavy around me. How you ever recover from that I don't know. "
But that didn't stop local prosecutor James Plowman (one of those tough-on-crime guys) from filing child pornography charges against Oei and pretty much ruining the guy's life not only for the term of this Kafka-esque persecution for also for all time.
Once you have been assigned a label -- especially such an inflammatory one as "child pornographer", it stays with you forever, even though the whole case has now been thrown out by one of those sane "activist judges" that the wingnuttery loves to castigate. Oei has been spread over such blogs as Bad Bad Teacher and Faces of Child Porn, marking him forever as a danger to children.
Okay, people, it's time for everyone to step back and take a deep breath. Child pornography, I think everyone agrees (even the pornographers themselves, deep down), is a contemptible exploitation of the weakest members of society, but there has to be some tempering amount of reason surrounding the prosecution of it.
There's more than a difference in degree, even in substance, between a cell-phone photo of a semi-nude 17 year old and actual child pornography featuring unspeakable acts forced onto, say, nine year olds.
But don't look for this new hysteria to abate anytime soon. Not when you've got stalwart guardians of public morals like prosecutor Plowman on the job.
Given his moralistic zeal, I would have guessed that he was a graduate of the notorious Regent University School of Law, but I would have been wrong -- he actually went to Georgetown.
He is a Republican, however (surprise-surprise), which in conservative and old-time-religion-bent semi-rural Virginia automatically makes him part of the Religious Right. But only as a provisional member -- it appears that he is a Catholic, and you know that the Fundo-Xians are willing to tolerate the slaves of the Great Whore of Babylon as long as they agree with them, but don't really welcome them with open arms. So poor old Plowman is going to be left behind with the rest of us rabble when the