Swampscott Principal Edward Rozmiarek, who resigned last month after being caught in a sting operation by online group Perverted Justice provides an interesting example of someone engaging in clearly inappropriate and potentially harmful behavior with a minor (or someone believed be a minor), but avoiding a criminal charge. Though Rozmiarek's behavior may have cost him important personal relationships and his reputation in the community — Swampscott High School ensured he was not allowed on school grounds by taking out a no trespass order with the Swampscott police department — Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, was unequivocal in a statement to WBZ-TV: "As repugnant as his conduct was, it simply does not cross the criminal line."
Rozmiarek allegedly had sexually explicit conversations with someone he believed to be a 13 year old girl, and even exchanged phone numbers. Nonetheless, his conduct appears not to have met all of the elements of proof for enticement of a minor – a felony in Massachusetts under M.G.L. ch. 265 section 26C. Those elements, each of which must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, are:
(1) the alleged victim was a child under the age of 16 or a person whom the defendant believed to be under the age of 16;
(2) the defendant enticed the alleged victim to enter/exit/remain within a vehicle/dwelling/building/outdoor space; and
(3) that the defendant did so with intent that s/he, or another person, would commit the offense of:
(a) indecent assault and battery on a child under 14;
(b) rape of a child;
(c) assault on a child under 16 with intent to commit rape; or
(d) inducing a minor to engage in prostitution
as well as 17 additional specified crimes.
The penalty for enticing a minor in Massachusetts is up to 5 years in state prison and mandatory sex offender registration. A jail sentence of up to 2 1/2 years may alternatively be imposed.
Compare Rozmiarek's situation to a similar 2015 case of an Ohio school Principal also caught in a sting operation by someone inspired by the TV Show "To Catch a Predator" - but not affiliated with the Perverted Justice group. In that instance, the Ohio State Legislature clearly preferring the distinction between felony and misdemeanor conduct over no criminality at all, intermediate school Principal William Basel was charged with a first degree misdemeanor under applicable Ohio law.
In child enticement cases, it doesn't matter whether the online persona engaged with was a child or an adult posing as a child (as often is the case with police “sting operations”) — "impossibility" of contact with an actual minor doesn't abrogate the statute’s application; demonstrating how seriously soliciting children for sex is viewed. However, in Massachusetts the use of profane or sexually explicit language, alone, does not satisfy the elements of proof. By contrast, sending sexually explicit photographs/materials will not only result in an enticement charge, as long as the other above-referenced elements are also met, but can also result in contemporaneous charges alleging disseminating matter harmful to a minor (M.G.L. ch. 272 section 28) and/or disseminating obscene material (M.G.L. ch. 272 section 29); both of which are also felonies carrying up to 5 years in state prison.
Regardless, the Rozmiarek outcome isn't so much a case of the Law dealing leniently with inappropriate conduct with minors. Instead, it is a cautionary tale about how close one can come to being held accountable for a very serious crime simply through ill-advised interaction with children online.