Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton
Appeals From: Hamilton County Nos. 17-2468 17-2470 Juvenile
Appealed From Are: Reversed and Appellant Discharged
T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, and Alex
Scott Havlin, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Appellee
State of Ohio
Law Firm, LLC, and Bradley M. Gibson, for Appellant C.W.
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.
and Procedural History
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.
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."
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.
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
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?"
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.
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