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In re C.W.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

December 20, 2019

IN RE: C.W.

          Appeals From: Hamilton County Nos. 17-2468 17-2470 Juvenile Court

         Judgments Appealed From Are: Reversed and Appellant Discharged

          Joseph T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, and Alex Scott Havlin, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Appellee State of Ohio

          Finney Law Firm, LLC, and Bradley M. Gibson, for Appellant C.W.

          OPINION

          ZAYAS, JUDGE.

         {¶1} Following a bench trial before a magistrate, 12-year-old C.W. was adjudicated delinquent for committing acts that had he been an adult would have constituted telecommunications harassment, under R.C. 2917.21(B)(1), and inducing panic, under R.C. 2917.31(A)(3). For the following reasons, we reverse the juvenile court's judgments.

         Facts and Procedural History

         {¶2} This case stemmed from two comments made by C.W. to an Instagram post, one of which stated, "DUMB FUCK COME TO SYCAMORE YOU WONT," and another which stated, "I'll square up to these stupid coons." C.W., a Sycamore Junior High School student, published these comments on the Instagram page of the so-called "Clown Clan," http://www.instagram.com/clown.clann, from his cell phone while he was at home on the evening of September 29, 2016. He deleted them approximately two hours later.

         {¶3} As explained by the parties, the context of these comments was "the odd phenomenon of disturbances caused by clowns." Frank Forsthoefel, the Superintendent of the Sycamore Community School District, testified that at that time there were reports in the national and local news about alleged attacks involving people dressed up as clowns, as part of a "clown craze."

         {¶4} Forsthoefel testified that, for instance, early on September 29, there was a report from the Reading school district that a clown allegedly assaulted someone and made a threat against the district, which prompted its closure on September 30. Forsthoefel explained that "threats" were also made against Colerain High School.

         {¶5} Forsthoefel testified that on the morning of September 30, after receiving a call from the principal of Sycamore Junior High School regarding "posts made on social media that [were] causing some upheaval in her building," he requested additional police officers for the school. Forsthoefel testified to a significant disruption in the school system.

         {¶6} Damon Davis, the assistant principal of Sycamore Junior High School, learned of C.W.'s comments on the Instagram page on the morning of September 30, after another student, J.S., showed Davis a screenshot that she took of C.W.'s comments, prior to C.W. deleting them. J.S. testified that C.W.'s comments were in response to the Clown Clan's Instagram post. J.S. testified, "[t]he clowns posted a picture and they said - I think they said, what school do you want us to come to?"

         {¶7} Davis interviewed C.W. at school about his comments and had C.W. "write out in his own words what had taken place." C.W. admitted to Davis that he made the comments and later deleted them. Davis testified that C.W. told him that he wanted to see what the clowns looked like and that he wanted the clowns "to come to Sycamore so that he could fight them and see what they would do to other people." Davis testified that comments posted by C.W. and two other students caused a disruption at the school that day, as students at the school "felt scared," and "want[ed] to see a counselor." Davis testified that as a result of the disruption a school-wide pep rally scheduled for that afternoon was cancelled.

         {¶8} At the conclusion of a two-day trial, the magistrate found C.W. delinquent for having committed telecommunications harassment and inducing panic. C.W. timely objected to the magistrate's decision, which was later affirmed by the juvenile court. C.W. now appeals, asserting five assignments ...


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