It started as a dare, one teenage boy antagonizing another. So when the Red Mountain High School football team in Mesa, Ariz., lined up in their red and white jerseys on picture day last August, standing shoulder pad to shoulder pad in the stadium bleachers, Hunter Osborn, No. 42, accepted the challenge.
School officials didn’t discover the teen’s prank — or his exposed penis peeking above his pants in the team photo — until it was printed in more than 3,000 yearbooks and distributed to 250 students, reported CBS 5, a local TV station. For months before that, Osborn’s part had gone unnoticed in the football program sold at games.
Now Osborn, 19, faces 69 counts of indecent exposure, a misdemeanor, and one count of furnishing harmful items to minors, according to the TV station, charges that could follow the high school senior forever if he’s convicted.
But authorities with the Mesa Police Department said the number of charges — 69 for the number of students and faculty in the revealing photo — could fluctuate as the investigation continues.
Police told The Arizona Republic that those 69 victims, if age 18, could come forward and ask that the misdemeanor charge be dropped on their behalf. If the victims are minors, their parents could make the same request on their behalf, police said.
A spokesman with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said the charges were recommended by Mesa police and could be modified or even dropped once the county attorney reviews the case, the newspaper reported. Osborn was arrested Saturday and later released, reported CBS 5.
Online, supporters have rallied around Osborn’s cause. A Change.org petition titled “Free Hunter Osborn” had garnered nearly 2,600 signatures early Wednesday. It argues that the school, which published the photos in the yearbook without catching the prank, should own its mistake.
“Red Mountain High School is using him as a scapegoat instead of taking any responsibility!” the petition says. “Hunter needs to be held accountable for his actions but that doesn’t mean ruining his life!” A hashtag on Twitter, (hash)FreeHunter, is collecting support as well.
The Mesa Public School District released a statement about the incident:
“The district is dismayed by the actions of the students involved in the photograph.
“Upon learning of the photograph, school administration immediately contacted police and is cooperating fully with the investigation.
“Disciplinary action will follow policy and may be based on the outcome of the police investigation.
“The school and district are conducting an investigation to determine what actions might have prevented the publication of the photograph, so appropriate safeguards can be put in place going forward.
“While the small size of the photograph as published makes the details difficult to discern, the yearbook has been recalled so the school can make a minor but critical edit for the inappropriate content.”