Criminal Justice

Another Teen 'Sexting' Peril: Charges (Now Dismissed) Against School Official

When Ting-Yi Oei heard rumors that students at his high school were sending revealing photos to each other on their cell phones, the Loudoun County, Va., assistant principal felt it was his job to investigate this obviously undesirable behavior.

In consultation with the school principal and security specialist, he interviewed students and identified one such so-called “sexting” photo (the 16-year-old subject was wearing underpants). Then, as instructed by the principal, saved a copy of the photo, in case it was needed for further investigation. Sending it to his own cell phone, however, he now realizes was a mistake, writes Oei himself in a lengthy Washington Post article.

Soon, after a parent of a suspended student complained, the 30-year educator, at age 59, was facing highly publicized charges of failing to report child abuse—and possession of child pornography. Although the charges eventually were dismissed by a judge, the experience meanwhile provided him with an unexpected education in the workings of the criminal justice system.

Stunned by the charges, he was also “furious that the sheriff’s department, by its own admission, had never even investigated the original incident. No one interviewed the principal until after my lawyer demanded that they do so,” he says. “They’d simply taken the word of a disgruntled parent.”

Meanwhile, he and his wife drained their savings and borrowed to pay his hefty defense costs, and even some longtime friends doubted his innocence. Plus, instead of addressing the sexting problem among the students and moving on, those involved—including not only police and school officials but students who potentially would have been required to testify in his case—have been wasting their energies on a baseless prosecution.

Now, after months of worry, he is hoping to be back at the high school for this year’s graduation. However, Oei says, “I can no longer look at the power of prosecutors and our justice system the way I once did.”

Related coverage: “Fed’l Judge in Pa. Backs ACLU, Bars DA from Charging Teens for ‘Sexting’ “ “Prosecutor Gets 6-Month Suspension for Showing Teen Sex Photos to Parents”

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