In Manassas City ‘sexting’ case, earlier search warrant also sought explicit photos

The felony “sexting” prosecution of a 17-year-old Manassas City teen attracted nationwide attention because of his lawyers’ claims that Manassas City police obtained a search warrant around July 3 seeking to photograph the teen’s erect penis. The teen left town before the search warrant could be served, the controversy erupted, and Manassas City police last week issued a statement saying it was not their policy “to authorize invasive search procedures of suspects in cases of this nature.”

Except that they obtained a search warrant for “a photograph of the suspect’s erect penis” a month earlier, documents filed in Prince William County Circuit Court show. The affidavit and the warrant can be read below. The Post redacted the teen’s name and identifying information from the affidavit and warrant prepared by Manassas City Detective David E. Abbott.

The affidavit, written by a law enforcement officer to obtain an arrest or search warrant, was submitted to a Prince William magistrate, whose identity cannot be determined by the signature line, on June 3. This was the same day that the teen was set to go to trial. But prosecutors neglected to obtain proof that the defendant was a juvenile, 17 years old or younger, his lawyer, Jessica Harbeson Foster said. So they had to dismiss and then refile the felony charges of manufacturing and distributing child pornography, for allegedly sending sexually explicit video to his 15-year-old girlfriend, which was done in the first week in July. The details are here.

In addition to refiling the charges the same day, Abbott obtained search warrants for the teen’s high school and home, in search of documents to prove his age, and to take a photo of his genitals, which would corroborate the evidence already seized from his cell phone.

A close look at the affidavit shows that the line “This includes a photograph of the suspect’s erect penis” has been crossed out and initialed, evidently by Abbott because of the letters “DEA”.  Whether that was done at the magistrate’s instigation or Abbott’s is unclear, and Abbott did not return a request for comment Monday. Manassas City police Chief Douglas W. Keen declined to be interviewed or discuss his earlier statement that such warrants were not department policy. Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said he couldn’t comment on a pending case.

However, the search warrant itself does not have the “erect penis” line crossed out like the affidavit does, and lawyers said the police theoretically could have proceeded with that aspect of the search. The teen’s lawyer, Jessica Harbeson Foster, said the police did not demand such a photo from the teen, but they did take photos of his genitals. She had not seen the warrant itself until Friday and did not know, prior to the first burst of publicity in the case, that it was even an option in the previous photos of the teen.

She noted that the warrant was obtained at 5:03 p.m. and served about an hour later, after the teen was arrested. She said she would seek to have both the June 3 and early July search warrants  quashed because they were intrusive and authorizing the police to commit an illegal act. After a backlash over the early July warrant, for which Foster said the police and prosecutor Claiborne Richardson told her they would seek to force the teen to have a client by injection if necessary, the police said they would withdraw that warrant, which still has not been made public.

Here is the June 3 warrant, which was served:

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998. In 2011 he launched The State of NoVa blog, a state strictly defined as the boundaries of four counties and one city: Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Alexandria.
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