Sunday, May 16, 2010

What Happened In Lockland?

It's hard to know what to make of the students involved in the "senior prank" at Lockland High School, since it's not entirely clear what they actually did that night.

Regular readers will recall that last January, I was critical of officials who decided to file criminal charges against students who unplugged engine block heaters for diesel school buses, causing the cancellation of school in Mason. The Lockland students are also being criminally charged (some as adults, as they are 18) and face suspension or expulsion.

Early reports indicated that the students were ransacking the school, throwing books into hallways. When I read that, my thought was, "That's not a prank. That's vandalism." But an article in yesterday's Enquirer suggests that the conduct was much tamer. I can't figure out what the kids intended to do with the rubber bands and cups of water, but the "prank" hardly seems destructive, if that story is accurate.

If this was a non-destructive prank, then we're once again witnessing the results of over-criminalization of bad conduct. A school suspension and school-related discipline is appropriate. It might even be appropriate to disallow the students from participating in graduation ceremonies (but not actually from receiving their diplomas). But a felony record? Really?

Some of the students are charged with resisting arrest and fleeing from police. That's a separate issue. (Separate, that is, if the charges are legitimate--which is not always the case with a resisting charge.) If students really ran from or physically struggled with police, their conduct might have been criminal. Once your prank is exposed and you're caught, you don't start a police pursuit. You have to accept the consequences, even if that means a night in jail before your mom can get you released.

Yesterday's article focuses on an 18 year-old college-bound senior, for whom a felony record would be crippling. If the grand jury indicts her and the other students, I hope the authorities offer them some sort of diversionary disposition--some sort of result that involves acceptance of responsibility and community service, but no criminal conviction. If they stand indicted and aren't offered a way out, we'll find out whether 12 people of Hamilton County are willing to brand an 18 year-old a felon for high school hijinks.

The case raises an interesting contrast to the treatment accorded MU's Pi Beta Phi sorority members who behaved badly in April. According to the Enquirer, police encountered them intoxicated and urinating on the side of the road. That's classic disorderly conduct. But no one was cited; instead, the buses were "escorted" to Lake Lyndsay. And none of the students was charged criminally for their destructive behavior, even though some it certainly constituted criminal damaging. Yes, I realize that different police departments from different counties were involved. But it's fascinating that some people get police escorts to parties after bad behavior, and others get police escorts to the Justice Center.

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