No charges filed yet in Liberty HS nude photo scandal; attorney doubts any will be

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LIBERTY, Mo. -- Suspend everyone involved – that’s what the majority of you polled on fox4kc.com believe should happen to the teenage boys and girls allegedly caught up in the nude photo scandal at Liberty High School.

Liberty Public Schools suspended eight boys who allegedly received the nude pictures, texted them to their friends, or posted them to social media; while the 16 girls featured in those pictures were only verbally reprimanded, according to the district’s media representative.

Nearly 3,000 of you chimed in on the issue on FOX 4's website, with about 80 percent of viewers who said they believe everyone involved should be suspended, noting the girls who sent the photos are just as guilty as the boys who received them and forwarded them on to their friends.

Eric Vernon, a Liberty attorney who is not directly involved in this case, but who specializes in juvenile law, agreed.

“I think if a young woman was to take a picture of herself, and then send it,” he said, “that arguably, that’s a worse crime than what the young man did in just receiving it, because she’s the one that produced it, and she’s the one that distributed it, and those things are fairly serious felonies.”

Liberty police are now investigating to see if there are grounds to criminally charge any of the teenagers reportedly involved. So far, no charges have been filed and Vernon doesn’t think there will be.

“For it to be child pornography,” Vernon explained, “it has to involve somebody who is under the age of 18, and typically it needs to involve some type of contact or sexual conduct, some kind of touching or some depiction of sexual act for it to be actual child pornography.”

“There are other laws about obscenity that are a lot more vaguely worded, and you could, I suppose, make the argument that if it was a particularly sexual pose, or if that was clearly the object was to depict some kind of sexual pose or position or something, that that could be pornographic.”

Vernon has not seen the alleged photos, but said he doubts any of the teens involved would be prosecuted.

“Prosecutors have discretion,” he said. “Just because something is against the law, doesn’t mean that some crime must be charged. And so you would hope that in a situation like this, cooler heads would prevail, at least that’s my feeling. I suppose there are probably parents out there that want the book thrown at somebody.”

But if charges were filed, Vernon said the punishments would vary based on the ages of the teens, because at age 17, they are considered an adult under Missouri law.

“Seventeen is the cutoff,” he said, “which sometimes when you’re dealing with high school kids, can be very frustrating because you can have a person involved who is 16 and is dealt with in juvenile system and a person who is a day over 17 and he goes to jail, but that is the law.”

On Monday afternoon FOX 4 spoke with Janet Rogers, Clay County’s juvenile officer, and she said she could not comment until final disposition was done in this case. The media representative for school district did not return FOX 4’s calls for an update.

But Vernon said he thinks punishment by the school is sufficient.

“I think that probably a finger-wagging, a stern lecture and whatever the school is doing ought to be enough,” he said.