Police collect kids’ phones

EAST PALESTINE — Local police confiscated 27 phones belonging to East Palestine High School students on Tuesday during an investigation involving inappropriate material.

Police Chief Kevin Dickey said that according to the investigation so far, it appears that a female student sent a sexually explicit video to her boyfriend who lives in Tennessee.

The boyfriend allegedly shared the video with the girl’s ex-boyfriend, and at some point the video began being circulated among East Palestine students through the Facebook messenger application, Dickey said.

Police were contacted around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday by high school Principal Chris Niefer, according to East Superintendent Traci Hostetler.

“Our high school principal was made aware of a situation involving a video. He contacted the police immediately and the investigation took place today,” Hostetler said.

She also clarified that WFMJ Channel 21 contacted the district in response to an anonymous tip it received. “We did not call them for an interview,” she said.

The school is cooperating with the police department on the investigation.

“Unfortunately, this is an issue that high schools across America face today. Our number one job is to make sure that our kids are safe and we will cooperate fully with the police. Our parents have been wonderful through this process,” Hostetler said.

Dickey said police interviewed several students and parents after school on Tuesday, and that while the department had the right to confiscate the phones, it will need proper authorization or a search warrant to access the contents of each of the phones.

“The investigation is probably going to be lengthy,” he said.

Once the department gets the proper authorization to access the contents of the phones, any phones that do not have suggestive material will be deemed not necessary to the case and returned, he added.

He also cautioned that people need to understand that once something enters cyberspace, it cannot be taken back and noted that charges could be filed on anyone involved for disseminating matter harmful to a juvenile, including those who are juveniles themselves who are sharing the material.

Once the local investigation is completed the matter will be sent to the county juvenile court for a determination on whether charges will be filed, he said.

Hostetler said it is too early in the investigation at this point for any disciplinary action on the school’s part with regards to any students involved.

“It is so important to note that, while this is very serious to us, this is not a problem that is confined to the East Palestine school district. This has been a problem in every district I’ve ever been involved in. It is a problem for students and administrators across the United States. We try very hard to express to our students the severity of creating and disseminating explicit images,” Hostetler said.