This article was a follow-up to A Mother’s Nightmare, A Child’s Terror, a Hole in Justice first published on November 12, 2013.
Update – On January 7, 2015, Tahoe Wiseman was sentenced to serve out his full 80 week sentence for multiple violations of his SSODA disposition, and for flunking a lie detector test about his sex life. Wiseman admitted to using drugs and having sex with multiple underage girls. At his sentencing, Wiseman blamed his behavior on my articles.
Court is Blind to Social Media Impact
What happens when the stark reality of social media proves that the justice system is failing our most vulnerable? When a sex offender tweets with adoring teens?
Washington law allows certain juvenile child molesters to remain free in the community. After pleading guilty, these felons can keep their routine of school, sports, friends, parties, public recreation–even skiing on weekends. Often the only change to their schedule is bi-weekly group therapy sessions, with other juvenile sex offenders.
RCW 13.40.162 is Washington’s “Special Sex Offender Disposition Alternative” (SSODA) law for first time juvenile sex offenders. It allows molesters to remain free in the community and live their lives–even if the victim was a very young child, who had been traumatized by repeat attacks.
Under the SSODA program, a juvenile sex offender signs a two year contract with the court. According to Thurston County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Wayne Graham, RCW 13.50.050 and 42.56.210 require the terms of this contract to remain hidden from the public.
Not even a young victim’s mother is allowed to know what restrictions, if any, are placed on her child’s molester.
Because a molester’s SSODA contract is shielded from the public, enormous weight is placed on the professional judgment of the court “experts” who decide if a molester will remain free in the community. These experts also determine any restrictions to that freedom.
In Thurston County, WA, Juvenile Court Commissioner Indu Thomas and Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim both express great confidence in the SSODA program. They state that they rely heavily on the court’s experts–like probation officers and psychologists–to evaluate the offender.
According to Thomas and Tunheim, there are two main factors for SSODA. First, a felon’s perceived level of remorse, and second, a felon’s perceived desire to follow a straight and narrow path in the future. They both reiterate that they rely heavily on the court’s professionals to determine if an offender’s remorse and repentance are real.
But is that confidence well placed? Especially with no public oversight?
And can court officials truly understand and keep up with the new world of teen social media, when trying to control young felons who are loose in the community?
A Court’s Faith in its Professionals
Tahoe Wiseman, 18, is a Level II Sex Offender. His notification is online. He is legally an adult. But because he is in the SSODA program, the terms of his freedom are protected from the community. Since he was seventeen years old at the time of his conviction, he is still treated as a juvenile felon.
On September 30, 2013, Wiseman pleaded guilty before Judge Indu Thomas to two felony counts of first degree child molestation. His victim was five years old at the time of Wiseman’s arrest and confession in April 2013. There had been multiple attacks.
At Wiseman’s sentencing, the victim’s mother spoke over a speaker phone. Her shaking voice rang out through courtroom, describing her young son’s tormented life. His fearful days. His long nights, haunted by bad dreams, screams, and night terrors.
No court officials expressed any doubt about Tahoe Wiseman’s guilt, or his victim’s suffering. Judge Indu Thomas spoke of the lifelong effects on a small victim’s life.
Still, all the court officials clearly stated that Tahoe Wiseman was an excellent candidate for freedom under SSODA, after a sentence of just twenty days in juvenile detention. Judge Thomas said that twenty days was “enough” for two felony counts of first degree child molestation of a small child.
The probation officer stated that Wiseman’s evaluation was “clean” and “clear” with “nothing but success written on it.” The judge and prosecutor immediately agreed.
Judge Thomas told Wiseman about her strong confidence in the validity of his excellent evaluation. She didn’t see any signs of where it could be wrong.
Wiseman nodded solemnly as the other court officials also expressed their confidence in him, and their trust in his stated remorse for his repeat crimes against a small child.
Judge Thomas reminded Wiseman that SSODA would be an “inconvenience” in his life.
A Separate Reality
Tahoe Wiseman began his “@Tw-t hoeWiseman” twitter account two weeks after his April 2013 arrest and confession. That account expanded to one hundred and eleven followers before it was shut down in mid-November 2013, after some of his friends’ worried parents began to follow it. They sent links to the young victim’s mother.
“@Tw-t hoeWiseman’s” hundreds of tweets from April through November 2013 were filled with dirty jokes and profanities. The posts included bizarre selfies, and graphic talk of sex, drugs, flirtations, partying, snowboarding, good times at the skate park, and getting his season pass to White Pass ski resort:
Nothing that looked like someone feeling any remorse.
Most disturbing were the flirtatious tweets to Tahoe from pretty girls. Requests that he carry their books and walk them to class. Requests that he snapchat them.
Although that particular twitter account was shut down, Wiseman’s schoolmates say that he continues to collect social media followers, changing names and accounts after concerned adults find out.
Screenshots are sent to the small victim’s mother. She tells the court officials, who continue to tell her of their confidence in the success and reliability of SSODA.
Nobody outside the court can even find out if Wiseman is supposed to be on social media, during his time in SSODA. That information is kept hidden from the community, like the rest of his SSODA contract.
Evidence vs. the Courts
All the experts and all the theories in the world can’t undo what teenagers choose to document every day online. That is the real evidence.
The justice system needs to step outside the courtroom and learn about sex offender tweets in the real world.
Will the courts choose to learn about this new reality? Or will they allow themselves to be hoodwinked by younger and younger criminals, whose new technologies are outpacing the laws that are meant to control them?