Editor’s note: This story has been updated after backlash caused the Manassas Police Department to rethink the juvenile suspect’s private-parts photo shoot. Please see below.
The story of a Virginia teenager who may be forced to medically undergo an erection for the purposes of photographing by law enforcement officers caused a firestorm on blogs and social media Wednesday evening.
On Tuesday, Washington NBC station WRC-TV reported that a 17-year-old juvenile is facing two felony counts related to the production and distribution of child pornography after he allegedly sent a sexually-explicit video of himself to his then 15-year-old girlfriend after she sent him photographs of herself. TheBlot Magazine is withholding the suspect’s name because of his age.
The case began earlier this year when the girlfriend’s mother discovered the images and filed a complaint. The suspect was not arrested at the time, but instead was served with papers to appear in juvenile court. Prosecutors were forced to dismiss the case last month after the court forgot to certify that the suspect was a juvenile.
Police obtained new charges against the suspect, as well as a search warrant for his home. The suspect was arrested the second time around and taken to juvenile hall, where he claims police took photographs of his genitals against his will.
“I asked if theyre allowed to do that, and he said, ‘I tried to refuse,'” the suspect’s aunt and legal guardian Stacy Bigley told WRC-TV. “They told him if he did not they would do it by force.”
Now prosecutors are seeking an even more invasive procedure: Forcing the teen to achieve an erection so the can photograph his genitals for comparison against their evidence.
Jessica Foster, an attorney representing the teen, said the new request by prosecutors amounts to child abuse.
“My goal is to stop the search warrant,” Foster told The Washington Post. “I dont want him to go through that. Taking him down to the hospital so he can get an erection in front of all those cops, thats traumatizing.”
By Wednesday evening, the police department’s Facebook page was flooded with comments from angry citizens calling on authorities reverse their decision involving the suspect.
“If you charge either minor, you need to charge both,” one person wrote on Facebook. “You are breaking the law in a supposed attempt to enforce it.”
But the police department doesn’t see things that way. Shortly after the story went viral on Wednesday, the agency released a statement defending its actions.
“It is not the policy of the Manassas City Police or the Commonwealth Attorneys Office to authorize invasive search procedures of suspects in cases of this nature,” the statement said, adding that “no such procedures have been conducted in this case.”
But the statement stopped short of saying those procedures would be conducted in the future, and the statement didn’t say whether forcing a suspect to a photo shoot involving their genitals falls under the department’s definition of an “invasive search procedure.”
The suspect has been granted permission from the court to leave the state, though he is due back for a hearing by July 15. He is currently staying with his aunt in an undisclosed location.
If he is convicted, he faces incarceration until the age of 21 and will likely be forced to register as a sex offender.
UPDATE: BAD PUBLICITY MAKES POLICE GO SOFT
Following a wave of bad publicity and backlash on social media, the Manassas Police Department announced on Thursday that it would not subject the juvenile suspect to a photo shoot after forcing him to get an erection.
After initially defending the tactic, police spokesperson Brian Larkin told the Associated Press on Thursday that it would not proceed with its plan. A search warrant that had authorized the department to take the photos will be allowed to expire, Larkin said.
Privacy advocates had argued that the tactic violated the suspect’s constitutional rights against self incrimination.