Parents regularly take away their children’s cell phones and other items as punishment but it’s rare for such actions to become criminal offenses.
However, this is exactly what happened in Texas when Ronald Jackson, 36, was charged with theft after taking away his daughter’s phone.
It sounds like a ridiculously heavy handed reaction from the authorities and the judge in the case certainly thought so. Last week Dallas County Criminal Court Judge Lisa Green ordered a jury to find the father not guilty after ruling the state had failed to present sufficient evidence to continue the case.
Jackson was charged with theft of property of at least $50 but under $500, a Class B misdemeanor that can be punished by jail time.
According to media reports, Jackson said he took away his 12-year-old daughter’s cell phone as punishment after he found inappropriate texts in September 2013. A few hours later, officers from the Grand Prairie Police Department arrived at his home and asked for the iPhone 4 back.
Jackson said he decided that the police would not interfere with his ability to be a parent.
He was estranged from the child’s mother, Michelle Steppe, at the time. Steppe saw the issue differently. She said she bought the phone, although it was on the child’s father’s data plan, and it belonged to her.
Steppe told jurors during the court case she called police the day her daughter’s phone was taken away for disciplinary reasons.
“You can’t take someone’s property, regardless if you’re a parent or not,” Steppe said.
The Washington Post reported three months after the phone incident, Jackson was given a citation in the mail for theft of property less than $50 in value, a Class C misdemeanor. Court documents revealed how the city attorney’s office offered a plea deal if Jackson returned the cell phone.
Later the city attorney’s office refiled the charge with the Dallas County District Attorney’s office as a more stringent Class B misdemeanor which can lead to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine. Jackson was arrested in April 2015, put in handcuffs and taken to jail. He was released on a $1500 bond.
Although Jackson was cleared of the offense, the episode has ruined his relationship with his daughter and her mother.
“I have to separate myself from them,” Jackson said in media reports. “I can’t ever have a relationship with them again.” His attorney is planning to file a federal complaint for civil rights violations against the Grand Prairie Police Department and the city attorney’s office.
Our Dallas criminal defense attorneys represent many people who are charged with theft offenses. As this high profile case illustrates, a minor matter or a family dispute can on occasions result in criminal charges based on the flimsiest of evidence.