Month: October 2016

There has been a recent national epidemic of reports of people in clown masks committing assaults, issuing threats, and generally “creeping out” members of the public. While most have been unsubstantiated, reports concerning clowns have been pouring into police agencies at an alarming rate.

The Initial Sightings And Reports

The first report that gained national attention came from Greenville, South Carolina. In August of this year, a group of children in Greenville told local law enforcement that clowns tried to lure them to a home deep in the forest. There were similar subsequent reports of clowns attempting to lure children into the woods in North Carolina and Georgia. In Maryland, callers reported three clowns hiding in bushes jumping out and assaulting people. In Oregon, a woman reported seeing a clown with blue painted teeth attempting to assault citizens by frightening them. In Reading, Ohio, a woman claimed to have been attacked by a knife-wielding clown, but her story was later determined to have been fabricated as an excuse for why she was late for work. In fact, the common thread in all of these clown sightings is the lack of police verification. None of these reports were ever substantiated, and no clowns were ever found.

However, the current clown hysteria is not entirely unfounded. Adding to the hysteria, or perhaps simply monopolizing on the hysteria, a number of clown-related offenses have actually been substantiated. As reported by ABC News, a woman in Ohio was verifiably assaulted by a man dressed as a clown, and the assault resulted in the closure of many area schools. A 13-year-old in Virginia was arrested for attempting to solicit an individual on social media with a clown profile picture to murder her teacher. A 14-year-old in Texas was charged with making social media terroristic threats relating to clowns. A report of an armed clown led to the evacuation of a dorm at Merrimack College in Massachusetts. Four people were arrested in Georgia for threatening an abduction of children by clowns.

White House Addresses Clown Hysteria

This clown hysteria has even been addressed during a White House Briefing at the beginning of this month. Press Secretary Jay Carney told the press that the clown epidemic should be taken seriously and has resulted in more than a dozen arrests. Carney even said that local law enforcement agencies have been asking for help from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to address the clown assaults occurring across the nation.

Because of this recent assaults, Target told ABC News that it will be minimizing the availability of clown masks in their stores. Even the fast-food chain McDonald’s stated that it would be limiting its appearances of its clown mascot, Ronald McDonald, for the foreseeable future due to the increase of assaults by clowns.

Unfortunately Clown Hysteria Is Not A New Phenomenon

The collective fear of clowns – and the monopolization of this fear – is not a new phenomenon in this county. The media outlet Slate reported that reports by children of clowns attempting to lure or assault them date back to 1981, mostly without apprehension of any suspects. Even in the District of Columbia there were reports of clown crimes dating back to July 1994, in which the Seventh District police station received multiple reports of a clown trying to lure children into his van. In that case, a boy was actually abducted by November of 1994, but the police were unable to connect the abduction to the clown reports. While there have not been any current reports of clown assaults in the District, it may be only a matter of time – particularly with Halloween fast approaching.

The news is full of celebrities filing restraining orders (or Civil Protective Orders) against their former partners: Denise Richards against Charlie Sheen, Halle Barry against Gabriel Aubry, Kelly Rutherford against Daniel Giersch, and Rihanna against Chris Brown, just to name a few.

Now it is possible that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitts’ name might be added to that list. On September 19, 2016, Angelina Jolie filed for a divorce from Brad Pitt. The couple has been in a romantic relationship for twelve years. The filing occurred days before allegations emerged that Brad Pitt had verbally and physically assaulted one of the couples’ six children.

The question is: could Angelina Jolie successfully obtain a CPO in DC Superior Court based on this allegation? The answer requires a three-point analysis: (1) Do Pitt and Jolie have the required relationship?; (2) Do the allegations constitute criminal behavior?; and (3) Does DC have jurisdiction?

What is the relationship between the Pitt and Jolie?

The first hurdle that Jolie must overcome is to show that she and Pitt are in the type of relationship covered by Civil Protective Orders. Such relationships include blood relatives, spouses, persons with a child in common, persons in a romantic relationship, or persons who share a common intimate partner. Therefore, the fact that Jolie and Pitt were both in an intimate relationship and married means that the parties qualify for an entrance into a Civil Protective Order.\

However, the allegations discussed below concern the couples’ minor son, Maddox, and not Jolie. That means that Jolie could file the petition on behalf of Maddox (under D.C. Code § 16-1003(a)(1)), but would probably not be able to file one on behalf of herself.

Do the allegations constitute criminal behavior?

The second hurdle is for Jolie to show that Pitt committed a criminal act that requires the implementation of a restraining order. The test is whether there is “good cause” to believe that Pitt has committed or threatened to commit a criminal offense (D.C. Code § 16-1005(c)).

The allegations in this case concern the couples’ fifteen-year-old son, Maddox. Sources claim that Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Maddox, and at least one other child of the couple were flying on their private plane from France to Los Angeles via Michigan. During the flight, Pitt became intoxicated and began arguing with Maddox. The argument turned physical when Pitt “made contact” with Maddox in the shoulder area. There are conflicting reports as to whether Maddox sustained an injury as a result of this contact.

This contact is only a sufficient basis for a Civil Protective Order if a Judge finds that the conduct was criminal.

The DC simple assault statute, D.C. Code § 22-404, makes it unlawful to use force or violence to injure or attempt to injure another or to commit a threatening act that would reasonability create in another person a fear of immediate injury. The definition of “injure” does not require actual injury, but instead is satisfied by a mere unwanted touching. Therefore, by even “making contact” with Maddox’s shoulder, Pitt could be found guilty of simple assault under this section.

However, Pitt does have a valid defense if he made the conduct for the purpose of “parental discipline.” Under the DC Code, a parent is permitted to use a reasonable amount of force in preventing or punishing a minor child’s misconduct. If Pitt was acting in a genuine effort to correct Maddox and did not act excessively under the circumstances, then he would not be guilty of committing a simple assault.

Because it is clear that Pitt and his son were engaged in an argument and there is insufficient proof at this time that Maddox sustained any injury or that Pitt acted excessively, it appears that Pitt was acting for the purpose of parental discipline.

Does DC have jurisdiction?

In order for the Civil Protective Order matter to be heard in DC Superior Court, there has to be some connection to the District. DC has jurisdiction if the allegation occurred in DC or if the petitioner resides, lives, or works in the District of Columbia.

In this case, the allegation occurred while the family was on a plane. This creates a special aircraft jurisdiction, which comes into play anytime an aircraft has a scheduled destination or last point of departure in the United States and the aircraft lands in the United States (CRM 1405). The offense is therefore in federal jurisdiction, and the investigation into the conduct is being handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Thus, without any connection to DC, the case could not be heard in DC Superior Court. If Jolie were to seek a protective order, it would likely be in California where the family resides.

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