In Tom Jackman’s article, “Detective violated law when searching teen in ‘sexting’ case, federal appeals court rules”, Detective David E. Abbott Jr., lead investigator, was sued by Trey Sims in federal court after investigation of “sexting” goes too far. Two search warrants were issued, but after an uproar by the public the second warrant was retracted. Abbott was eventually accused of molesting two young boys, resulting in him committing suicide. Trey Sims’s case was dismissed after completing a year of probation. These can be one of the hardest charges to win at trail due to each case being different and unique. Sex offenses are routinely handled at Rensch Law, giving our layers the experience needed to deal with these serious situations.
By Tom Jackman
The teenaged “sexting” case that attracted national attention in 2014 is now enshrined in federal case law.
A police detective who obtained two search warrants to photograph a teenager’s genitalia violated the teen’s Fourth Amendment right not to be unreasonably searched, a federal appeals court has ruled, reviving a lawsuit against the detective that had been thrown out by a lower court. A dissenting judge wrote that the ruling could cause police to be less aggressive in their investigations.
[In ‘sexting’ case, Manassas City police want to photograph teen in sexually explicit manner, lawyers say]
The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit continues the nationally renowned case of Trey Sims, who was 17 when police in Manassas, Va., and prosecutors in Prince William County, Va., began investigating him for sending a video of his genitalia to his 15-year-old girlfriend by text message. Manassas City Detective David E. Abbott Jr., the lead investigator, claimed that he was instructed to obtain the warrants by Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Claiborne Richardson, and both were sued by Sims in federal court last year.
Richardson is still a prosecutor in Prince William County and currently a candidate for a Virginia circuit court judgeship. Abbott committed suicide in December 2015 as police attempted to arrest him on charges of molesting two young boys. His estate remains a defendant in the suit, while Richardson was dismissed from the suit by U.S. District Court Judge Claude M. Hilton in Alexandria, Va. Sims was not identified in initial stories because he was a juvenile but is being identified now because he is an adult and the plaintiff in the lawsuit.
The case sparked an uproar after The Washington Post reported that Abbott and Richardson had obtained two search warrants, and Abbott already had executed one of the warrants, seeking photos of Sims’s erect penis, to compare with the video sent to his girlfriend. The issue of how to handle “sexting,” particularly between consenting teens, continues to vex authorities, with some saying that it shouldn’t be treated as a crime — Sims was charged in juvenile court with the equivalent of a felony — and others saying full prosecution is needed to discourage it. A Prince William juvenile court judge said there was enough evidence to convict Sims after a trial in August 2014, but eventually dismissed the case after Sims completed a year of probation.
[Manassas case rekindles debate over penalties for sexting]
New details of the case emerged in Sims’ lawsuit, though. According to the 4th Circuit opinion, in serving the first search warrant, which sought “a photograph of the suspect’s erect penis,” Abbott ordered Sims to “manipulate his penis” to obtain an erection, with two other, uniformed officers present. That failed, leading Richardson and Abbott to obtain a second search warrant and threaten to take him to a hospital “to give him an erection-producing injection,” the opinion written by Circuit Judge Barbara Milano Keenan noted.