CINCINNATI (CN) – A 12-year-old claims he was arrested during school, suspended for 10 days, and recommended for expulsion because of two Instagram posts related to the “scary clown craze” that made headlines in fall 2016.
Filing the federal complaint on their son C.W.’s behalf in Cincinnati, John and Catherine Wood say the boy was “handcuffed … and walked through the school lobby in full view of his classmates” after being frisked by a police officer.
The arrest stemmed from C.W.’s social media posts “totaling 13 words … on the evening of September 29, 2016,” according to the complaint.
The boy says he visited the “Clown.Clann” Instagram page, where dozens of users had already posted comments goading the clowns to come to certain locations. According to the lawsuit, C.W. added his own comments: “‘DUMB FUCKS COME TO SYCAMORE YOU WON’T’ and ‘I’ll square up to those [clowns].’” (Brackets in original.)
The comments were part of a larger, nationwide “clown craze” that consisted of numerous social-media accounts dedicated to scary clowns that threatened to visit communities across the country, as well as real people dressed as clowns who would show up in unexpected locations such as schools and restaurants.
C.W. says “hundreds of social media comments on Instagram and Twitter resembled” the posts he made that night, which were deleted less than two hours after being posted.
Sgt. Gregory Harris of the Montgomery City Police Department arrested C.W. the following day at Sycamore Junior High School for violating the school’s code of conduct, according to Tuesday’s complaint.
Harris, who is named as a defendant in the case, “told C.W. that he was being placed under arrest for ‘inducing panic,’” although the complaint says the officer did not have a search warrant or read C.W. his Miranda rights, and that he “turned a ‘blind eye’ toward potentially exculpatory evidence.”
The complaint says C.W. challenged the punishment handed down by the Sycamore School District and was eventually suspended for just five days.
However, the boy’s parents claim the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office has continued to pursue spurious charges against their son, even after they filed a motion to dismiss a juvenile criminal charge of inducing panic.
“Knowing that the criminal charge of inducing panic should be dismissed,” the 27-page complaint says, “the Hamilton County Juvenile Prosecutor instructed Sgt. Harris to bring new charges against C.W. so that the case against C.W. would continue.”
According to the parents, these instructions resulted in three new false charges against C.W., even after the dismissal of the inducing panic charge.
“On April 17, 2017, the prosecutor finally dismissed the false charge against C.W. of inducing panic … but then orally amended the three newly filed charges. … The ‘amendments’ by the prosecutor made the original charges in the sworn complaint against C.W. unrecognizable,” the complaint says.
The new charges included two related to harassment, and one related to “causing public alarm,” according to the complaint.
Named as defendants alongside Sgt. Harris are the Board of Education of the Sycamore Community School District, Superintendent Frank Forsthoefel, Assistant Principal Damon Davis, the city of Montgomery, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
The Woods say “the defendants knew that C.W.’s 13 words were not directed at any fellow student or school official or any particular individual. They knew the ‘creepy clown’ topic was a ‘hoax’ and admitted ‘[a]t no point was a direct threat made.’ They admitted that nobody was ever in danger … [but] purposely ignored, and worse, purposely obscured the otherwise-unambiguous truth of C.W.’s 13 words, choosing instead to over-generalize and harshly use C.W. that morning to intimidate other students.”
Superintendent Forsthoefel said in an email the school had not yet reviewed the lawsuit and thus had no comment.
The boy and his parents are represented by Bradley Gibson of the Finney Law Firm in Cincinnati.