Prosecutor tries to force teenage boy to register as sex offender for showing Playboy magazine to a friend.
ABC News tells the horrifying story of the legal assault on the life of 16-year-old Matthew Bandy.
He is described as a pretty typical 16-year-old who never got into trouble -- well maybe not so typical after all. Maybe above average.
Police burst into the Bandy home accusing the boy of possessing child pornography. If found guilty he could have been sentenced to prison for life! Each image in one’s possession could lead to 10 years in prison consecutively. In most Western countries owning 10 images are considered one offense but in the U.S. it is 10 separate crimes.
Matthew’s mother, Jeannie, says when the police first attacked the house she thought “someone’s trying to break in our house. And then there were police officers with guns pointed at me, telling me to get downstairs.” This is exactly how innocent people, and not so innocent cops, get killed.
We have made this point repeatedly. The police are not going out to arrest people anymore. They are acting like an invading military force. They don’t announced who they are. Jeanne Bandy didn’t know. She thought they were burglars breaking in. In other words she never heard them identify themselves. They could have been rapists or killers (that wouldn’t have been far off the mark unfortunately). And if she did what any sane person would do -- defend herself she or a police officer, or both, could have ended up dead.
Maricopa district attorney Andrew Thomas, who was behind this arrest, gave evasive answers as to why the police broke into the house at 6 am with guns drawn. He said it was a police action and his office “wouldn’t have had control over that” and that “I frankly don’t know the exact facts...”
The police insisted that the boy had downloaded erotic images of minors. He said he hadn’t. Like many other adolescents he admitted he had viewed some adult porn.
Police walked off with the family computer. Police claimed that nine images were found and each image meant a 10 year prison sentence for the boy. They say it was to stop pedophilia yet there is no indication the boy was a pedophile. In fact by a clinical definition, and pedophilia is a clinical term, the boy wouldn’t qualify as a pedophile at all.
Matthew was placed under home arrest and forced to wear a monitor so the government could pinpoint his location 24 hours a day. He told ABC: “It was terrifying. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know why it was happening.”
He found it difficult to go to school. He was under severe stress. It was only fortitude that kept him alive as many people placed in this situation just end their own lives due to the trauma. ABC reports: “Matt’s dreams had been destroyed and his mother was crushed. And even though there was no proof that Matthew personally downloaded those nine pictures, it would be difficult to prove his innocence. Novak said that the pictures alone were practically all the evidence the police needed.”
The entire case that would send the young boy to prison for life was built on the claim that he had accessed a Yahoo account and the account supposedly contained child porn. Grand Inquisitor Thomas said that there was evidence “linking that computer to a yahoo web site “ and that the his office got search warrants: “And uh, they in and uh, conducted that, uh, uh...that investigation.” Articulate bastard isn’t he?
Thomas said: “The juvenile admitted that uh, while he…or he said…the juvenile said that uh, while he did not access child pornography, he did uh, access adult pornography as…as part of uh, a…a group…a web site that he uh, went onto on the Internet. So you have all of that evidence plus some incriminating statements. And as a result of that, the…the case was brought. But as is…” The “incriminating statements” which the district attorney is throwing about were the boy’s admission that he had looked at adult erotica and nothing more. Apparently in the warped mind of Thomas looking at a Playboy is the equivalent of being a child molester. The boy had made no statements that were incriminating in regards to the crime that Thomas was trying to charge him with.
ABC could see the holes in the prosecutors logic and pushed him to explain exactly what were the incriminating statements that indicated the boy’s guilt. Thomas lamely replied that the boy admitted it was his computer, that he was on the internet, and that he accessed some adult porn. In one statement Thomas repeated the “evidence” that it was the boy’s computer three different times as if each rewording of that claim was a new piece of evidence.
But police would not identify a specific user. The question is not if the boy ever looked at erotic photos. The question was whether he downloaded the photos in questions. And for that there was no evidence whatsoever. When Thomas was asked about this he gave another incoherent, evasive answer: “Well, the…there…there may have been other people in the family who used it, but here…here's the thing. Uh, the…and I…I began…or at some point, I started to talk about the individ…the need for individualized justice.” Well, that certainly clears things up!
ABC says “prosecutors were determined to send Matt away.” That is frightening. The idea that prosecutors were “determined” to incarcerate a young teenage boy for the rest of life for nine images is beyond belief.
Matthew said: “"They didn't care that I denied it, they just kept on asking me and kept on thinking that I did it,. They just had it built in their mind that this kid is guilty, and we're going to make sure that he's convicted. No matter what the means are."
The family says that the prosecutor “was on a mission” and didn’t care about facts. He ignored the boy’s stellar record as an upstanding young man. He ignored the fact that Matthew voluntarily took, and passed a lie detector test, he voluntarily underwent psychiatric evaluations which also cleared him any “perverted tendencies”.
But Thomas only had images of sending the boy to prison dancing in his head. Apparently he didn’t care what happens to young teens sent to prison. Of course the rapes would end after a few years, perhaps Matthew would get lucky and a violent inmate would have killed him putting an end to the life sentence that Thomas was seeking.
The family finally turned to a computer expert to explain the images. Tammi Loehrs told them something that ought to worry every computer user in the United States. “If you have an Internet connection, high speed, through, let’s say, your cable company, or through the phone company, that computer is always on, and basically you have an open doorway to the outside. So the home user has no idea who’s coming into their computer.” When Loehr looked at the Bandy computer she found 200 infect files “so-called backdoors that allowed hackers to access the family computer from remote locations.”
It is possible for such bugs to be placed on a computer and there are some unscrupulous web sites that do this. Once this is done they can store images or files on your computer without your knowledge. And if they wish to send the images to someone else they can use your computer to do it. And you may never know it is happening. But if police search your hard drive you will be the one who will go to jail as a convicted pedophile, perhaps for life.
ABC pressed Thomas again. They noted the boy’s clean record, the lie detector tests, the psychiatric reports and now the evidence from the computer expert. They wanted to know what Thomas “put him [Matthew] through two years of hell” in spite of all of this. Thomas stuttered and stammered and evaded the question. At one point he started laughing and referred to the expert he used. But the expert he used only said that the images were there. He made no statement as to how they turned up on the computer.
Thomas tried to justify his actions saying “You’ve gotta look at all the evidence” and then the only evidence he pointed to was that the computer, not necessarily Matthew, accessed a “yahoo account where there was child pornography.” Note the account had the pornography. It is not claimed that the handful of images fond on the Bandy computer was downloaded from this account only that the other account had them.
If you access a web page, and unbeknownst to you that web site contains, elsewhere, perhaps even hidden, images of children that can be enough for the police to conduct a military-like dawn raid on your home. And if you have the bugs on your computer allowing others to access it, which is highly likely as well, then someone else could use your computer to store illegal images. And then morons like Thomas will send you to prison for life and feel good about himself for doing so.
ABC kept pressing Thomas to give them something of substance. He couldn’t. Instead he distorted the facts, that is when he could get a coherent sentence out. thomas said the evidence was that Matthew “admitted at least partially the substance of the crime, which was yes, he used the computer to go on the internet to access pornographic sites.” NO! It is not a crime to access porn via the Internet Mr. Thomas. Matthew admitted he accessed legal porn he did not partially admit “the substance of the crime” which was that he downloaded child porn. Thomas is lying.
With the evidence of the bugs on the computer allowing remote access persecutor Thomas had no way of showing the boy had done anything illegal. But he was reluctant to admit that he put a young teenage through hell for two years for nothing. Instead they dropped the child porn charges in return for demanding the boy admit he had shown a copy of Playboy magazine to another teen. (A crime that is no doubt committed millions of times by teens across America every year!)
As Thomas so eloquently put it, Matthew “was charged with solicitation to furnish uh... to furnish...sexual exploitation.” To furnish sexual exploitation???? ABC noted that meant he had a copy of Playboy and showed it to another boy. Thomas had a clear cut explanation, if you can make any sense out of it.
“And what you have to find is an appropriate uh, offense at that level of felony so that you can …can enter into the plea agreement. That's typically how the…the decision making process is done. So um, although I wasn't privy to that decision making process, it was a…a line prosecutor who handled tip…I've done that. And typically, what you do is you would find in this case, a classics on designated felony where there's a factual basis so that … I mean, you can't just pick any…uh, any classic felony."
"It has to be something that relates to the crime as alleged so that the defendant can go forward and admit guilt in court. And…and I should note, not to put too fine a point on this, but this defendant did plead guilty in a court of law.”
Note what Thomas was doing to the teen. He threatened the teen with life in prison. Instead he tells the boy to admit that he took a Playboy magazine and showed it to another teen. If the boy admits to that “crime” he wouldn’t go to prison at all. So the prosecutor offers him either life in prison or no jail time. Even the most innocent person would be a fool not to take the no jail time. But Thomas wanted this so he could do precisely what he did in this interview with ABC, claim “this defendant did plead guilty in a court of law.” Of course Thomas is again distorting reality by leaving out what it was he was guilty of doing.
And Thomas refuses to describe the actual crime. He keeps referring to it as a “solicitation charge” and an “class six undesignated felony”. That is a way to make it sound serious when it was not serious at all. In fact it is questionable whether it ought to be a crime.
So the guilty plea had nothing to do with child pornography. Instead it was the relatively innocuous act of showing another teenage boy a copy of Playboy magazine.
ABC noted that even the judge said the plea agreement was pushed through because Thomas couldn’t prove his charges. Thomas kept trying to slip around the facts in the interview and kept referring to the guilty plea by the boy. ABC reporter Jim Avila, who did a brilliant interview, said that: “What he [the judge] didn’t accept was exactly what you’re doing now... trying to stain the boy with child pornography charges.”
Thomas again distorted the facts saying: “I disagree. Well, with all due respect to the judge it’s his job not to accept a guilty plea if he really thinks that the person is innocent.” This is pure dishonesty on the part of Thomas. He is intentionally mixing too different issues. The guilty plea was of showing a Playboy magazine to another teen not about anything else. Thomas implies the boy is guilty of child porn charges as his “guilty plea” supposedly proves even though the guilty plea was forced on a boy facing life in prison. Read the entire interview yourself to see how Thomas constantly distorts the facts and how many times he find it a laughing matter to discuss how he tried to ruin the life of this young boy.
Thomas said something that ought to be scare the hell out of people in the interview. “But the ultimate outcome was what it was. And the defendant accepts that, the state accepts that, and I'm content that the appropriate sanction was imposed to hold him accountable, teach him a lesson, teach him that this isn't fun and games. If you're goin' to start playing around on pornographic sites, and you come across child pornography then, you know, you better accept the consequences of that.”
Thomas is saying this. If an adult looks at adult erotica and is not looking for child porn, but in the process they come across child porn by accident they “better accept the consequences of that.” So if they access a website that says “all images are of adults” and then open it to find a photo of a 17 year old (who is legally a child under US porn laws though above the age of sexual consent in most states) then Thomas feels that he is duty bound to send that person to prison. Thomas gloated about the “hard lesson” he taught this teen (not the obvious lesson that prosecutors can be assholes). Thomas said his actions would teach Matt “a good, hard lesson so he doesn’t do it again.” Do what again? Look at erotica! This is really what Thomas is saying. There is no indication that Matthew Bandy did anything but look at adult erotica and Thomas is saying that he wanted the boy to learn the lesson to never do that again.
What Thomas is doing is trying to find ways to prosecute people for looking at legal images! He is saying that if you look for legal erotica and unintentionally come across illegal erotica that he will prosecute you so that you learn not to look for legal images!
Thomas says the law on the books penalizing Matthew for showing a Playboy to a school mate is rarely enforced. ABC says they have not been able to find a case where anyone was ever prosecuted for such an offense. Thomas then says something chilling: “Maybe it’s on the books if only to allow us, in cases like this, to properly dispose of the case.”
What he means is that he had bogus charges against a young teen. It is embarrassing to Inquisitors to not find heresy in a victim. So they need laws that are not enforced in order to find some charge they can bring. They need to save their ego and be able to crow to the press that the defendeant accepted “guilt” even if the guilt had nothing to do with the actual crime that got the whole Holy Inquisition into full gear.
At this point the issue was over for Thomas but not for Matthew. In sex obsessed America the teen was now required by law to register as a sex offender! As ABC noted: “Under Arizona law and in most states around the country, sex crimes carry with them a life of branding. Matthew would be forced to register as a sex offender everywhere he lived, for the rest of his life.” One gets the impression that if every American who ever broke a law related to sex was listed on the offender’s registry that one could simple chuck out the registry and in it’s place write: “Please see census data.”
Matthew explained what this registration would mean: “"I have to stay away from children, I cannot be around any area where there might be minors, including the mall, or the movies, or restaurants or even church. To go to church I have to have written consent from our priest, I have to sit in a different pew, one that doesn't have a child sitting in it." In fact it is much worse than that. He would also be forbidden to live in certain areas including entire towns. He would be restricted from having certain jobs. His name and address could be put on the internet so any crazy could hunt him down and kill him (as has happened in several cases in the US). In some towns on Halloween individuals on the sex registry are rounded up by the police and held so that they wouldn’t be home in case children come trick or treating to their house! Every time a sex offense is committed in the area where Matthew lived he would be a suspect and subjected to police questioning. And the registry, while making his name and address public information, would only list that he had committed a felony of solicitation. It would not say that what he really did was show another 16-year-old a copy of Playboy!
The judge in the case accepted the plea bargain that Matthew had shown the Playboy. But he invited him to appeal. Thomas claims this was proof that judge was wrong. In fact it wasn’t. It was proof the judge thought what Thomas and his office had done was a miscarriage of justice. The judge couldn’t believe that Thomas’ office wanted Matthew to register as a sex offender. In the appeal the judge threw out that requirement. So Matthew barely escaped the heavy hand of the crusading prosecutor.
ABC reports that the family has disconnected their computer and no longer use it. Jeanne Bandy says: “I don’t want to have one in my house. Under, even under, the strictest rules and strictest security,, your computer is vulnerable.” ABC said, “the Web is simply too dangerous.” Here is the one mistake ABC made.
It was not the web that raided the Bandy home in a military style attack at 6 am. It was not the web that arrested this young boy. It was not the web that dragged him through court and made his life a living hell. It was not the web which forced hm to plead guilty to the “crime” of having a Playboy magazine. It was the web that tried to force him to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. It was Andrew Thomas. Parents can monitor web use but there is little they can do to keep a someone like Andrew Thomas from legally abusing their children.
For the record Thomas is a hard Right Theopublican who is making a name for himself by attacking illegal immigrants, when he isn’t trying to jail children for looking at Playboy. Personally I would enjoy seeing someone raid the house and office of Mr. Thomas and confiscate his computers and do the same thorough search on them that he had done on Matthew Bandy. It wouldn’t surprise me to find something on his computer that he didn’t know was there.
Anyone who has used the internet knows how easy it is to have things like this happen. I have gone to open one page and suddenly find the link takes me someplace else entirely and suddenly page after page starts opening. I find pages listed in my browser, some rather innocuous, that I know I have never visited in my life. For instance just now I see that I supposedly visited “billboard.com”. I know I’ve never done that. Nor have I ever been to Disney.go.com. I have no idea why they are listed in my browser as sites I’ve visited recently.
There have been times when a visit to one page suddenly turns up several dozen pages all opening simultaneously. The only way I knew how to stop it was to crash the system. I don’t know what was on all those pages. I lost control of my own computer when this happened. And I know the computer stays linked to net even when I close it for the night. I know this because I often find when I open it up in the morning that it has downloaded emails throughout the night.
What we have here is a technology which is not entirely under the control of the user. That in itself is not a major issue. But when morons like Andrew Thomas go on their crusades it becomes an issue. People like Thomas have the legal authority to emotionally torture people for not controlling a technology which they can’t control entirely. It isn’t that the net is too power that causes the problem. It is that men like Thomas are too powerful. The problem is that the law requires people to do the impossible and then holds them legally responsible if they don’t. That is a perscription for power for mediocrities like Thomas. Thomas is our Moron of the Week.
Photo: The photo is of Andrew Thomas.
UPDATE: The response to this post has been incredible. I have now located an ABC video regarding this story. You can watch it here. If that link does not work (and it might not) then go to www.abcnews.go.com/2020/ and look under "20/20 IN TOUCH Webcasts and open up "Crimes Committed on Your Computer". That should open up the video. Thanks for all the links guys. Just remember this is what government power looks like! You may think giving the state more power can be done for good but once they have the power they, not you, determine how it will be used. Limit the state.
WARNING: If you want to see how easily this can happen to you then read our update here.