Thursday, May 18, 2006

The School Prank Report: Overreaction?

As the school year continues to wind-down, the number of school pranks winds-up. Here's one from Wisconsin about an unnamed high school senior who put-up a poster that resulted in him being taken away in handcuffs:
A western Wisconsin high school student was arrested at school after officials accused him of altering a sexually suggestive poster about liquor to add a photo of the school's athletic director, and then posting it on a school bulletin board.

The 18-year-old La Crosse Central senior's crime? Defamation, an investigator said Tuesday.

Prosecutors have not filed charges against the teen, who was taken to jail in handcuffs, though the teen is scheduled to make an initial court appearance next Tuesday, according to the La Crosse County district attorney's office.

La Crosse Police Lt. Bob Berndt said the teen was arrested Friday after he used school computers to retrieve a parody ad featuring Captain Morgan rum and to superimpose the administrator's picture over the face of a man in the ad.

In the ad, the man has a scantily clad woman with her legs wrapped around his waist as he fondles her breasts. The poster, which was posted in the school's commons area, quoted the athletic director as saying, "I love Captain Morgans," Berndt said.

The Web site with the Captain Morgan parody,, features several ads as spoofs on how sex sells liquor and beer.

Central Principal Tom Barth said Tuesday the teen was temporarily suspended because he violated school policy on Internet use and the picture was inappropriate. He wouldn't say how long he was suspended.

"We felt it was certainly in poor taste. We felt that the student crossed the line," Barth said. "We felt it was a defamatory picture of our administrative team."

A telephone message left at the teen's home in Coon Valley was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Police were called to investigate "probably due to the nature of the ad," Berndt said. The school police officer consulted with the district attorney's office, and the decision was made to arrest the teen on suspicion of misdemeanor defamation.

Deputy District Attorney Loralee Clark, who is handling the case, was out of the office and unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Under state law, a person can be convicted of defamation for holding up or exposing someone to "hatred, contempt, ridicule, degradation or disgrace" without the consent of the person, Berndt said.

Such a charge is rare, though, especially at a high school, Berndt said.

According to Berndt, the teen told police he did not make the doctored picture but had showed it to other students and was unsure how it ended up on the bulletin board.

The teen said he did not have anything against the athletic director, Joe Beran, Berndt said. Beran wouldn't comment if there was an event that may have prompted the action.

"As an athletic director I am responsible for enforcing the rules," he said Tuesday night. "I'll just leave it at that."

Beran, who has worked at the school for 16 years, called the incident disheartening and frustrating. He has a child who is a sophomore at the school, he said.

"It's tough for your family and tough for your kids when you are an employee at the school sometimes and I don't know if people always understand that," he said. "They may not realize there is a person behind the prank."

Investigators tracked the picture to the teen by checking the Web history on the school computer, Berndt said.

The history showed the teen had visited the parody Web site as well as the school site where he would have gotten the picture of Beran, Berndt said.

Barth said the teen was expected back in classes this week. The teen was booked into the La Crosse County Jail on Friday on police accusations of defamation and bail jumping and was released about five hours later after posing a $1,500 cash bond, authorities said.

According to La Crosse County Circuit Court records, the teen was cited in January for driving after his license was revoked.
I really don't think that what the student did is going to result in a criminal conviction.

I wonder whose idea it was to involve the police?

Still... using the school's computer to pull his stunt shows me that this particular student isn't the sharpest tool in the shed...
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