A Black Indiana teen faces serious jail time for what he says was a senior prank that was taken much more seriously by local authorities.
According to the Indianapolis Star newspaper, Tyell Morton placed a blow-up sex doll in a girls’ bathroom stall early on the morning of May 31 as a senior prank at his school in Rushville, Ind. But a janitor spotted him exiting the school wearing gloves and a hooded sweatshirt that covered his face, leading school officials to fear that a mysterious intruder had planted explosives in the building.
Shortly thereafter, Indiana’s Rushville Consolidated High School was locked down for three hours and police units and K-9 dogs explored the building in a fruitless search of explosives. The youth was arrested later that day and spent five days in jail. He was released on $36,000 bond.
Morton was charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, and institutional criminal mischief, a felony. If convicted, the 18-year-old could be sentenced to up to eight years in prison.
“I know there has been plenty of pranks done at that school,” Cammie Morton, the teen’s mother told the Indianapolis Star. “I went to that school. When I heard what they was charging him for, my heart just dropped.”
Protesters say school administrators and police overreacted with charges that are unreasonably harsh, citing race as the motivating factor. “Schools and law enforcement are taking `zero-tolerance’ policies too far,” said a page on Change.org, a self-styled “activism platform for social change.”
“ This is an 18 -year old kid who has never been in any kind of trouble before, facing prison time for a prank. He was held in jail with a $30,000 bond and not allowed to graduate. We do not believe, in this case, that the punishment fits the crime,” Change.org said. Another Web site, FreeTyellMorton.org, was recently created, providing an arena for supporters to contribute, through PayPal, to a defense fund for him.
The teen wasn’t allowed to participate in his school’s graduation, but received his diploma in the mail.
“It’s not right. It was a senior prank. They’re blowing it out of proportion. I didn’t hurt anybody, I didn’t intend to embarrass anybody. What did I do wrong, you know?” Morton told NBC Indianapolis affiliate WTHR.
But nonetheless, administrators and officials are standing by the charges, saying the prank cost the school $8,000.
“In this post-Columbine world, that’s what you get when these kinds of things happen,” Rush County prosecutor Phil Caviness told WTHR.
Morton’s trial is set for Sept. 13 in Rush Circuit Court.