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P.Wm. prosecutors say they won’t use, seek explicit photos in Manassas City ‘sexting’ case

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Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said that a Prince William juvenile court judge declined to quash or suppress warrants issued in the below case.  But the judge did not have to rule on the motion to quash because the prosecutor and defense agreed that they would not use the photos from the first warrant or take photos with the second warrant. 

Prince William County prosecutors said Tuesday they will not use photos taken of a 17-year-old Manassas City teen after his arrest for “sexting” last month, and they will allow a second search warrant for photos of the teen’s genitals to expire without serving it, according to the teen’s lawyers. The teen is still set for trial next month on felony charges of distributing and manufacturing child pornography, allegedly sexually explicit video of himself that he reportedly sent to his 15-year-old girlfriend.

The hearing was closed to the public by substitute Juvenile Court Judge H. Jan Roltsch-Anoll despite Virginia law which says that hearings involving a juvenile charged with “an offense which would be a felony if committed by an adult shall be open.” The law also says a juvenile “shall have the right to a public hearing unless expressly waived by such person,” but the issue was not argued before Roltsch-Anoll, who told a deputy to keep reporters outside, according to the teen’s guardian, Stacy Bigley. Roltsch-Anoll is the Prince William County Bar Association’s top candidate for a permanent opening on the juvenile and domestic relations bench. The bar’s second choice is Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Claiborne Richardson II, the prosecutor in the sexting case, who left the courtroom immediately after the closed hearing and could not be contacted for comment.

The teen was first charged in January after the mother of the 15-year-old girl complained to police. Manassas City police said in a statement last week that the 17-year-0ld had sent pornographic videos after repeatedly being told to stop. Charges were dismissed on June 3 and refiled the same day, along with a search warrant in which police initially sought permission to photograph the teen’s erect penis. That request is crossed out on the police affidavit, but not on the search warrant itself. The police then took photos only of the teen’s flaccid penis, his lawyer, Jessica Harbeson Foster, said.

Earlier this month, prosecutors said in a hearing that they had obtained another warrant to photograph the teen’s erect penis, Foster said, and that they would force him to have an erection by administering an injection if necessary. Another juvenile court judge, Lisa Baird, then allowed the teen to leave the state prior to the warrant being served. Bigley, the teen’ s guardian, then made the decision to go public with the case, and NBC Washington first reported the story on July 3.

In the closed hearing, Foster and Bigley said prosecutor Richardson told the judge that the commonwealth had agreed not to use any evidence seized on June 3, including the photos of the teen’s penis, “because they’re not necessary.” Foster also said the recently obtained warrant for photos of the erect penis will expire if not served within 15 days.

“I’m very happy about that,” Bigley said. “I don’t think this stuff should be illegal. It’s a boy being a teenager. Yes sexting is illegal in Virginia, but other states have recognized that it’s not. You have to make sure your kids know the dangers of sexting. Hopefully this has shown people what can happen when they talk to their kids.” She said if she hadn’t taken her teen’s case public, “none of this would have been exposed and not brought to a lot of people’s knowledge. He could be a convicted felon and a sex offender.”

Police said they wanted photos of the teen to compare with the videos seized from his cell phone. Foster said, “it’s excessive and it’s not in the best interests of the community to pursue a charge in that fashion.”