For 6 in nudity case, an unblemished record
By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 20, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- Pinellas prosecutors will not pursue felony charges against six Boca Ciega High School 16-year-olds who were suspended earlier this year for posing naked in photographs.
State Attorney Bernie McCabe's office announced Monday that it had dropped felony charges against two of the teenagers and planned to allow four others to enter a diversion program that will keep their records clean.
In the diversion program, juveniles are typically ordered to complete some form of community service and perhaps undergo counseling, said prosecutor Jim Ferguson.
"It will not count as any type of conviction," Ferguson said. "It shouldn't affect them down the road."
If they do not successfully complete the program, or choose to decline the offer, prosecutors could charge the students, Ferguson said.
He declined to say why charges were dropped against the two, except to say, "There wasn't enough evidence that they were involved."
Neither McCabe nor one of his top prosecutors, Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett, returned calls for comment on the decision.
In a previous interview, Bartlett spoke about the possibility of the students entering a diversion program, noting, "This punishes them but not to the extent it ruins their future."
He called the incident, "One of those stupid high school things kids tend to do."
Police said seven Boca Ciega students skipped class in February, went to one of their homes and used an entire roll of film while taking pictures of one another while undressed. They brought the pictures to school, thinking they were funny.
All the students were 16, except for one 14-year-old girl, who was photographed.
Sheriff's officials say the set of 20 photos shows four boys and three girls naked or partly undressed, posing by themselves, in pairs or in groups, fondling or kissing each others' body parts.
Genitalia are not visible in the photos.
The 14-year-old was not arrested because police consider her a crime victim.
Three of the 16-year-olds were charged with sexual performance by a child, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
The other three were charged with a more serious felony, lewd and lascivious exhibition, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
The five sophomores and one junior live in Redington Beach, Madeira Beach and St. Petersburg.
They are not named in this story because of their ages and the nature of the charges.
A school resource officer found out about the photos and confiscated them from a girl who had them at school.
The photos were processed at a one-hour photo center in an Eckerd store in Madeira Beach, deputies said.
The mother of one of the 16-year-old girls who is being offered the diversion program said prosecutors and police have overreacted.
She said she thought even a diversion program was too severe a punishment.
Each of the students was suspended from school for 10 days and faced the prospect of a transfer to another school.
On Monday, Pinellas County school officials declined to comment.
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