In ‘sexting’ case Manassas City police want to photograph teen in sexually explicit manner, lawyers say

The latest: Manassas City police say they will not serve search warrant in teen ‘sexting’ case

UPDATE, 7 p.m.: The Manassas City police have released a statement tonight defending their actions. It is here.

ORIGINAL POST: A Manassas City teenager accused of “sexting” a video to his girlfriend is now facing a search warrant in which Manassas City police and Prince William County prosecutors want to take a photo of his erect penis, possibly forcing the teen to become erect by taking him to a hospital and giving him an injection, the teen’s lawyers said. A Prince William County judge allowed the 17-year-old to leave the area without the warrant being served or the pictures being taken — yet.

The teen is facing two felony charges, for possession of child pornography and manufacturing child pornography, which could lead not only to incarceration until he’s 21, but inclusion on the state sex offender data base for, possibly, the rest of his life. David Culver of NBC Washington first reported the story and interviewed the teen’s guardian, his aunt, who was shocked at the lengths Prince William authorities were willing to go to make a sexting case in juvenile court.

“The prosecutor’s job is to seek justice,” said the teen’s defense lawyer, Jessica Harbeson Foster. “What is just about this? How does this advance the interest of the Commonwealth? This is a 17-year-old who goes to school every day, plays football, has never been in trouble with the law before. Now he’s saddled with two felonies and the implication that he’s a sexual predator. I don’t mind trying the case. My goal is to stop the search warrant. I don’t want him to go through that. Taking him down to the hospital so he can get an erection in front of all those cops, that’s traumatizing.”

Manassas City Police spokeswoman Adrienne Helms said the department would not comment, and Detective David E. Abbott, the lead investigator on the case, did not return a call seeking comment. And no one except a Prince William magistrate has seen the affidavit and search warrant for the photos — they aren’t made public until after they are served and then returned to the courthouse. The Post is not naming the teen defendant.

Foster said the case began when the teen’s 15-year-old girlfriend sent photos of herself to the 17-year-old, who in turn sent her the video in question. The girl has not been charged, and her mother filed a complaint about the boy’s video, Foster said. The male teen was served with petitions from juvenile court in early February, and not arrested, but when the case went to trial in juvenile court in June, Foster said prosecutors forgot to certify that the teen was a juvenile. The case was dismissed, but police immediately obtained new charges and also a search warrant for his home. Police also arrested the teen and took him to juvenile jail, where Foster said they took photos of the teen’s genitals against his will.

The case was set for trial on July 1, where Foster said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Claiborne Richardson told her that her client must either plead guilty or police would obtain another search warrant “for pictures of his erect penis,” for comparison to the evidence from the teen’s cell phone. Foster asked how that would be accomplished and was told that “we just take him down to the hospital, give him a shot and then take the pictures that we need.”

Update: Latest in the “sexting” case

The teen declined to plead guilty. Foster said the prosecutor then requested a continuance so police could get a search warrant, which was granted by substitute Juvenile Court Judge Jan Roltsch-Anoll. Two days later, both sides were back in court. Foster had filed a motion to allow her client to travel out of state to visit family. Richardson wanted the teen to comply with the search warrant before he left. Juvenile Court Judge Lisa Baird declined to order that, and allowed the teen to leave the area. But he has another court date on July 15.

Despite the request by the prosecutor  in court, Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said that police told him “these allegations [by the lawyers] lack credibility.” He said he would look into the matter further.

Carlos Flores Laboy, appointed the teen’s guardian ad litem in the case, said he thought it was just as illegal for the Manassas City police to create their own child pornography as to investigate the teen for it. “They’re using a statute that was designed to protect children from being exploited in a sexual manner,” Flores Laboy said, “to take a picture of this young man in a sexually explicit manner. The irony is incredible.” The guardian added, “As a parent myself, I was floored. It’s child abuse. We’re wasting thousands of dollars and resources and man hours on a sexting case. That’s what we’re doing.”

Foster said Detective Abbott told her that after obtaining photos of the teen’s erect penis he would “use special software to compare pictures of this penis to this penis. Who does this? It’s just crazy.”

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
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