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Public schooling #2: Criminal texting

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 15 years ago, in 2009, on the World Wide Web.

(Story thanks to a private correspondent.)

In Wauwatosa, Wisconsin (a suburb of Milwaukee), a 14 year old girl was detained by the police at her high school, interrogated, searched by a male police officer, arrested for disorderly conduct, then body-searched by a female police officer, in order to find a cell phone that it turns out she was hiding in her pants. The charge is that she was sending text messages in class after the teacher told her to stop, and then hid her phone from the teacher when the teacher tried to confiscate it.

Oh my God! Quick, call the cops, before somebody gets hurt!

As far as I know, there has not yet been any public mention of why the Dean Of Students And Head Football Coach thought it was appropriate to escalate the situation into a police interrogation or to launch this ridiculous investigation of a student’s inattentiveness in class. Here’s how Jeff Griffin, the school’s pig-in-residence, justified browbeating, busting and humiliating a 14 year old girl over a minor classroom management issue:

Back in Mr. Swittel’s office [REDACTED] was confronted with the fact that her teacher and two friends said she had a phone out in class. [REDACTED] continued to deny having a phone. She stated she does not own a phone and her dad’s phone is at home.

[REDACTED] was advised she was under arrest for disorderly conduct. She was told her disruption in class with the phone out, the refusal to obey the teacher, and her not telling us the truth is what got her arrested. [REDACTED] was asked again about the phone and she was also told she would be searched incident to the arrest.

— Jeffrey S. Griffin, Wauwatosa Police Department Incident Report Number 09-003386 (2009-02-11), courtesy of The Smoking Gun

Please note that in the view of School Resource Officer Jeffrey S. Griffin, disrupting class by silently sending text messages, or disobeying a teacher’s requests in the classroom and then lying about it to try and cover it up, is not a pedagogical matter; it’s a police matter, and in fact a criminal offense for which you can be forcibly detained, hauled off, arrested, and fined up to $5,000.

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11 replies to Public schooling #2: Criminal texting Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Nick Manley

    In my first highschool, I had two friends who sneaked outside to the track grounds to see the snow or something. My middle school experience also included a teacher’s pet reporting that one of my friends had marijuana in their backpack. They brought in the cops to search for it. I don’t recall whether they found anything or not.

    Our torturter had a real vendetta for the 4-6 people I formed a fragile circle of sorts with in my middle school years. At my 8th grade graduation, she played teacher by motioning for me to stand for The Pledge of Allegiance. I had refused to stand for political reasons. I was proud of myself for not bowing down to pressure when my homeroom teacher motioned for me to do it too. It must have looked bad for the school or something. Afterwards, a friend told me his grandfather said he was going to kick my ass.

    Thank you! Charles. It was good to have a chance to recall all this.

  2. Laura J.

    Since, obviously, when school employees do not like a student’s conduct, the most appropriate responses could not possibly be to ignore it as a harmless personal quirk, provide activities that are at least as engaging as written discourses with other human beings, allow the student to go along their merry way elsewhere for a while to take care of their own personal business, et cetera.

  3. Gabriel

    Yeah sometimes you have to take a step back and realize the people in charge are often just plain nutters. Or, as Radgeek calls them, “insane, ranting, power trippers”. The hard part for me is remembering that most people don’t seem to see things like this as abnormal, deplorable, or at all objectionable.

  4. MCLA

    Looks like “obeying” is becoming the prime social virtue, while “disobeying” the most dangerous, subversive sabotage of the social order possible. That’s the clear message they are passing to every impressionable child, and I am sure the children are learning the lesson all too well.

  5. Darian W

    This reminds me that I should really get to work on that anti-school pamphlet that I was planning to do.

    I am reminded of the recent CA homeschool ruling: “A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare,” the judge wrote, quoting from a 1961 case on a similar issue. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/03/07/MNJDVF0F1.DTL

  6. Royce Christian

    The first thing that comes to mind is: WTF? Are these people insane?

  7. Monkt

    I literally walked out of high school when the school security officers attempted to take my laptop away from me. Teenagers need to be taught not to put up with this kind of shit.

  8. TLee

    What people fail to comprehend about these things ( besides the fact that they are horrid and designed to inspire fear and conformity in children ) is that they happen because parents register their children in school.

    Of course, they also happen because we are not taught the law.

    A warrantless arrest requires that the officer in question witness the one arrested committing a felony, a breach of the peace ( inciting people to violence ), or have probable cause ( 1st hand knowledge or a sworn statement from a 3rd party ) to believe that the one arrested has committed a felony.

    If none of these fit ( they do not ), then the officer is guilty of false arrest and/or the teacher/principal/school district is guilty of malicious prosecution ( lying on a verified statement ).

    If we teach our children the law and stop signing registration contracts with the schools, these things will stop happening quite quickly.

    The michigan legislature defines disorderly conduct as: “WI Statute 947.01: Disorderly Conduct. Whoever, in a public or private place, engages in violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, unreasonably loud, or otherwise disorderly conduct under circumstances in which the conduct tends to cause or provoke a disturbance is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor. “

    Notice that it uses “disorderly conduct” to define “disorderly conduct”…which is completely invalid. It also fails to define “disturbance”, which makes it void for vagueness. Finally, it is denoted as a misdemeanor, not a felony…so it is not something that one can be arrested for unless it amounts to a breach of the peace…and typing on a phone does not typically incite others to violence ( except perhaps authoritarian school teachers ).

  9. Gabriel

    “I literally walked out of high school when the school security officers attempted to take my laptop away from me.”

    Count yourself lucky they didn’t just take it anyway and beat you up for questioning them. :/

  10. Discussed at attackthesystem.com

    Attack the System » Blog Archive » Updated News Digest February 22, 2009:

    […] Public Schooling and Criminal Texting by Rad Geek […]

  11. Rad Geek


    I agree with you that the cops use of the disorderly conduct statute is probably bogus. (In fact I wrote him at his school e-mail address to ask him which clause of the definition applied to a case like this; I’m not holding my breath waiting for an answer, thoguh.) The problem is that government courts have been perfectly happy to let cops use disorderly conduct as a catch-all charge, which effectively allows a cop to inflict an arrest, search, and a misdemeanor charge on pretty much anyone he or she doesn’t like. (I think the circularity of the definition in the statute is no accident; it’s there to allow for more or less unlimited discretion in declaring behavior disorderly.)

    Unfortunately, I doubt that educating students more about the law would do much to solve problems like this — because those who enforce the law and those who interpret the law work for the same organization, and they are in cahoots with each other and extremely hesitant to challenge each other on much of anything. While Know Your Rights sorts of workshops can be useful to individual students (and I certainly recommend that people put such things on), I think what is most important is actually just observing and publicly exposing this kind of authoritarianism — legal cases are very unlikely to ever end it, but public outrage and public pressure might.

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