Art class is not what it used to be.† When I was a student back in New York in my formative great years, the most controversial thing to take place in my art class was having our rather heavy-set art teacher sit on me as punishment.† I donít think that behavior would cut it these days; however, it is nothing compared to a matter which came out of an art class in the San Francisco area last year.† In this case, a fifteen-year-old high school student was upset because a police officer arrested him for possession of marijuana.† The minor, who is being identified as Ryan D. was cited for marijuana possession by Officer Laurie MacPhail when she found Ryan off campus during school hours.† The following month, Ryan had a project due for his painting class.† Ryan did not submit your average painting.† His was of a young man firing a hand gun at the back of the head of a female peace officer.† Ms. MacPhail is obviously female.† The officer in Ryanís painting was wearing a uniform with a badge number 67.† Laurie MacPhailís badge number is 67.
In this painting, the shooter looked like Ryan, and it showed pieces of the officerís flesh and face being blown away.
It should be noted that before giving out the assignment, the art teacher told the students that they could not paint scenes of violence.† Needless to say, the art teacher thought that this command was violated, she decided that there might be something worth pursuing here, and she contacted her superiors at the high school.† They then contacted the police.† Ryan was prosecuted and charged in juvenile court with making terrorist threats.† He testified at his trial that this painting was not a threat; rather it was the way he expressed his feelings.† He also indicated that he did not expect Officer MacPhail to see it, which indicated that a threat to the officer was not at all on his mind.† The Superior Court Judge was not convinced, and found Ryan guilty of making the threat.† Ryan appealed, and the District Court of Appeal unanimously overturned his conviction, as the Justices decided that this was merely an expression of Ryanís anger through his painting and did not constitute a criminal threat.† The Court acknowledges that school administrators had every right to be concerned about the painting, but the Court concluded that Ryan was not guilty of any crime.† The Court noted that Ryan didnít paint this until a month after his arrest, he turned it in expecting to get credit for it, and he did not expect the officer to see it.
The Penal Code Section under which Ryan was prosecuted, which is Penal† Code Section 422, requires ďan immediate and specific threat.Ē† The Court noted that when the school administrators contacted the Police Department, Ryan was not arrested immediately.† The Court deemed this circumstantial evidence that no immediate or specific threat was deemed by the Police Department to have taken place.
This case was prosecuted by Deputy Attorney General Harry Colombo.† Mr. Colombo acknowledged the appropriateness of the Appellate Courtís decision, indicating that, in his opinion, the evidence was pretty thin.† Even he, the prosecutor, thought that it was a stretch to deem this painting a terrorist threat, and he is not planning to appeal the Appellate Courtís ruling.
So what do you think?† I donít think a crime was committed here; however, I do not believe Ryan has exercised good judgement.† He skipped school, possessed marijuana and got caught.†† He then, rather than take responsibility for his actions, decided to blame Officer MacPhail.
If you want to skip school and smoke marijuana instead, thatís fine, but if you make that choice and get caught, accept responsibility.† In my therapy practice, I have seen a number of teenage boys who have been in similar situations, and if and when they get caught, they accept responsibility.† Itís one thing to do something wrong and acknowledge that itís wrong and decide to take your chances anyway.† It is another thing entirely to do something wrong, and then, if you are caught, blame someone else.
Unless Ryan gets it together, I donít think heís going to end up as someone who makes a major contribution to this society.† He is only fifteen, however, and hopefully, he will grow emotionally in the coming years.
Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Booth & Unger, and a therapist at the Foothill Center for Personal and Family Growth.† Mr. Under writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues.† He can be reached at charlieunger @hotmail.com