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DA drops felony for school Snapchat video prank charge PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Schanen IV   
Wednesday, 17 May 2017 19:04

Prosecutor amends charge against Port High senior who made, posted video of locker room shenanigans

A 17-year-old Port Washington High School student who faced the possibility of being branded a felon for making a cell phone video of locker room shenanigans and posting it on Snapchat as a prank in December pleaded guilty last week to a misdemeanor and has the chance to have his criminal record expunged.

Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Joseph Voiland withheld a sentence, placed high school senior Tanner Meinel on probation for six months and ordered him to perform 25 hours of community service as recommended by both District Attorney Adam Gerol and Meinel’s attorney, Matt Last.

If Meinel completes his probation, his criminal record will be expunged.

In a move that shocked Meinel and his family and surprised school officials, the teenager was charged on Dec. 29 with one felony count of capturing an image of nudity in a locker room of a victim younger than 18 under a statute referred to as Wisconsin’s revenge porn law, which was intended in part to prosecute jilted lovers who post nude photos of their exes online to exact revenge. 

The felony is punishable by a maximum 1-1/2 years in prison and two years of extended supervision.

According to the terms of an agreement with the District Attorney’s Office, Meinel pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful use of a computer during the Thursday, May 11, hearing. 

“Don’t get me wrong, we’re very happy Tanner does not have to live with a felony conviction, but he went through a lot,” Meinel’s mother Jodie Kanneberg said during an interview after the hearing. “They made an example of him. They made him out to be a horrible person when the reality is he’s a friendly, kind, hard-working and honest person who, without a doubt, is the bravest 17-year-old I know.

“He meant no harm or had any intent to hurt anyone. This was a joke, a prank, and I don’t think he ever should have been charged with a felony.”

Gerol, however, said after the hearing that he stands by both his decision to charge Meinel with a felony and to later amend the charge to a misdemeanor.

“I was confronted with a victim who was clearly upset, and the behavior was clearly wrong,” he said. “The law is directed exactly at this sort of thing.

“All things being equal, the (felony) charge was appropriate and the disposition was appropriate.”

According to a Port Washington Police Department report, which recommended Meinel be charged with a felony, the 16-year-old victim “indicated that although he didn’t want to get anyone in trouble over the matter, he stated that he was disturbed by the video and its distribution.”

But Kanneberg said, “They were friends then and are still friends today,” something the 16-year-old confirmed for Ozaukee Press during an interview earlier this year.

Meinel’s trouble with the law began after he used his cell phone on Nov. 10 to make a video that briefly showed the naked backside of the 16-year-old as he retrieved his underwear in a school locker room after phy-ed class, then posted it to the popular mobile app that self-deletes images and videos after they are viewed.

A student who saw the video on Snapchat reported it to Thad Gabrielse, Port High’s dean of students and athletic director. School officials then notified police of the incident, which occurred around 10:20 a.m.

The 16-year-old pictured in the video told police he was showering when two other students started joking around by pretending they were going to throw his underwear in the shower.

A short time later, the 16-year-old said, he exited the shower and found his underwear hanging from a speaker box. He retrieved it, then noticed Meinel making a video of him with his cell phone. He said he did not agree to be recorded on video or to have the video distributed and was embarrassed by the incident, according to the police report.

Meinel admitted making the video and posting it on Snapchat after happening upon the scene, but said he meant no harm to his friend.

“He (Meinel) indicated that he wasn’t trying to embarrass (the 16-year-old) and that he believed they were actually friends,” officer Eric Leet wrote in his report. “He stated that it was just kind of a funny scene and he sent it out as more of a joke.”

Leet spoke with other students who confirmed that the “horseplay” with the underwear was not done to stage the video taken by Meinel. The officer then told administrators that he considered the creation of the video and its distribution “very serious,” adding that he would be “looking at and considering a request for criminal charges,” according to the report.

Shortly after Meinel was charged, Port Washington-Saukville School Supt. Michael Weber said administrators never expected the teenager, who was suspended from school for five days and banned from wrestling in five meets, would face a serious criminal charge.

“It was definitely a surprise to us,” he said. “We thought if anything he might face a misdemeanor or just receive a warning.”

Gabrielse said at the time that school officials were obligated to report the incident to police because the video was posted on the Internet but they never thought doing so would land him in court.

“Tanner is a very good kid,” Gabrielse said. “He was fooling around and didn’t think.”

During last week’s hearing, Meinel, who will graduate from Port High in two weeks, told the judge, “I’m sorry this happened. It will never happen again. I learned a lot from this.”

Last, his attorney, said, “He (Meinel) did not understand the gravity (of the incident) ... and the drastic ramifications it can have.”

Ozaukee Press reporter Kristyn Halbig Ziehm contributed to this story.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 May 2017 19:07