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Help Save A Young Man's Future: Justice for Darren
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In an egregious abuse of the spirit of the law, my brother Darren is being tried for possession of "sexual depictions of minors". He faces 10 years in prison, the rest of his life on a sex offender registry. He is 21 years old. Read the whole story below: More

In July 2015, my brother Darren was wrongly accused of being in possession of “child pornography”. This led to his arrest and him being charged with extortion and possession of sexual depictions of minors.

Here is what happened:

Someone on Darren's IP address used a fake Facebook account to contact and proposition a young woman whose nude pictures he'd come into possession of. The woman contacted the police, which led to them tracing the IP address to my brother’s home. Subsequently, the police raided Darren's home, confiscated his computer for investigation, and he was charged with extortion. They allegedly found multiple nude/semi-nude images of young women on his computer. The police tracked down the women in the photos to ascertain their ages; some several hours away. I have my own theories on why the Ellensburg Police Department would put such immense resources into this investigation, but Darren's attorney has advised that I keep them to myself for the time being. In any case, it was odd behavior on their part.

Some of the young women in the images that were allegedly on Darren’s computer were ages 16-17. There did not appear to be any issues of consent, as the images were self-uploaded to Tumblr and Instagram. Darren had no way of knowing or confirming their ages. The police also allegedly found photos that his longterm girlfriend had sent him. She is 18 months younger than Darren (but was for sure still above the age of consent which is 16 in the state of Washington). As a result of the investigation Darren was charged with 60 felony counts of possession of sexual depictions of minors. He was 19 years old at the time.

The County dropped the extortion charge when it was found to be unsubstantiatable. They offered him a plea bargain for seven years in prison . Cases like Darren’s are often plead out, and most commonly the result is probation. When he turned down the offer of seven years the extortion charge was reinstated. Some of the possession charges have since been dropped, but it is still an uphill battle. Jury selection starts January 24th, 2017 with him facing 14 of the original 60 possession charges. 14 felony charges of 1st and 2nd-degree possession of sexual depictions of minors for a young man who has essentially, allegedly, been sent pictures from his girlfriend and looked at porn on the internet.

The effect of this case on Darren's life and the life of my family has been immense:

- Darren graduated from Perry Tech with a certification in welding technology. He has been unable to accept lucrative job offers because they would take him out of Washington State. He has not been allowed to leave the state during the 18 months his case has been pending. As a result, he was legally restricted from attending our sister's wedding this fall as it was in Oregon. 

- My sister's former boyfriend and the father of her child, has cited Darren's case in their custody proceeding regarding their daughter. Police arrived in the middle of the night and took away her then year-old child because the baby’s father had filed for an emergency restraining order. In the order he alleged that she was "living with, and allowing contact with a minor child, a man who has been charged with over 40 counts of child pornography" and that their infant daughter was "in immediate danger" of being "sexually assualted" or "sexually molested". Darren is not a child molester, is not accused of child molestation, nor does he live with my sister and parents. According to my parents, the process server that night attempted to take pictures inside their home, asking my youngest brother (who, by the way, is a minor) “where’s the kid-fucker?”

- The judge in my sister's custody case was the same judge overseeing Darren's criminal case until her retirement in December 2016. She dropped the emergency order but put a restraining order in place so that Darren may not have contact with his niece. This has been devastating for him and confusing for her. One day recently the baby saw a picture of Darren on my mother’s refrigerator, kissed it and began baby-babbling to it. My sister called me, sobbing to tell me about this. 

- The Daily Record, Ellensburg's local newspaper, has repeatedly published the story with shockingly incorrect details on the case. Every time they do this, Darren's landscaping business loses clientele and he is aggressively harassed in person and online. The way he's been treated is disgusting and gut-wrenching for us to witness.

- Regardless of the outcome, his defense and fees will total nearly $60,000 by the end of the trial. If he is convicted and has to appeal, it will be higher.

This case has the potential to set a dangerous precedent in many ways:

- If convicted, Darren faces up to 10 years in prison for what has been widely (and inaccurately) portrayed as "kiddie porn". If (and there is an IF) he survives, and manages to avoid the severe psychological trauma of a long prison sentence, he will have to register as a sex offender.

Social stigma around sexual offenses mean registered offenders are shunned by society, and are often targets for violence. Strict limitations on where one can live and work when on a registry present enormous obstacles to re-entering society and becoming a productive citizen. Darren's young, promising life would effectively be over just as it was getting started.

- This case is a prime example of the harmful ways in which society pathologizes young people's sexuality. Darren has been branded a "pervert" and a criminal for doing what every teenager (and arguably every person ) does every single day: looking at stimulating images of other people. In an age where every teenager has unlimited access to erotic content, it is hard to look at Darren's case and not wonder if your own children could be next in line. Does their significant other ever send them “sexy” selfies? Do they take pictures of their own body and send it out into the universe? Does this common practice make them a purveyor of child pornography?

- The implications of this case with regard to the young women whose images Darren is accused of having are particularly disturbing to me as woman, a career visual artist, and a feminist. The court is saying that these young women, all of whom uploaded "risque" pictures of themselves to the internet, should be treated as victims. This strips them of their right to sexual expression, as well as bodily autonomy, and it leaves them open to potential legal consequences. Could these young women be legally considered producers of child pornography?

Darren is a loving and dedicated son, grandson, brother, uncle, boyfriend and friend; a hard worker and a good kid. I realize that anything having to do with teenagers and sex, or sexual offenses in general, makes people uncomfortable. That said, your attention to this case is desperately important to me and my family. Your support is vital in this trying time. Please join me in helping Darren mitigate the costs of his defense and helping to reunite our family. We are counting on the empathy and support of people like you. Thank you for your time.

 

Sincerely,

Blair Hopkins

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