Many high school students have sex. A few take nude photos or film intimate acts and share them on social media.
A 17-year-old high school student did both and was sentenced for it in Rock County Court on Tuesday.
Davonte McAlister, 2555 W. Deer Path Trail, Janesville, had just turned 17 when the incident took place Feb. 25. He was an Evansville High School student at the time.
“The use of cellphones by people who record things that they really shouldn’t is exploding, and it’s mind-boggling, frankly, especially by high school students who don’t seem to think beyond the end of their nose,” Assistant District Attorney Rich Sullivan said.
Defense attorney Jack Hoag said the sharing of intimate images of classmates happens in every school he knows of through his high school coaching.
“It is amazing … the power we put into the hands of people whose brains are not fully formed,” Sullivan said.
“We are carrying around computers in our pockets that are more capable than what was used to put men on the moon, and then we expect children to act like adults with those phones,” Sullivan said.
McAlister pleaded guilty to felony possession of child pornography for making the video of himself and a 14-year-old girl in a sex act.
He also pleaded no contest to fourth-degree sexual assault and disorderly conduct.
The prosecutor and defense attorney asked that McAlister, a good student with no criminal record, be given a break: He would not be sentenced on the felony charge, and he would serve two years of probation, to include 30 days in jail, for the two misdemeanors.
If he violates the rules of probation, he could be sentenced to prison on the child porn charge for a maximum of 3½ years. If not, attorneys will petition for the felony charge to be vacated.
Sullivan said McAlister had recorded similar liaisons with others.
One of those “young women” knew McAlister’s Snapchat password and was trying to remove a video of herself when she saw the video of the 14-year-old. That’s how others learned of it, leading to the girl’s public humiliation, Sullivan said.
McAlister used his status as an athlete to persuade the girl to go along, Sullivan said.
The girl was “vulnerable, anxious, looking for acceptance and has a strong desire to be popular,” her mother wrote to the court.
She was humiliated at school, leading to anxiety attacks, loss of school days, angry outbursts at home, plummeting grades and therapy, the mother wrote.
Hoag said young people are exposed to sexualized media on TV and online every day at a time in their lives when they lack decision-making abilities.
McAlister went to live with Gretchen Anderson and her family after the incident. She wrote to the court that McAlister has been a model of good behavior and that she has “no qualms” about him being around her two teen daughters.
Anderson said she has talked to McAlister about his mistakes and believes he has learned from them.
McAlister read a statement of apology for the pain he caused to the victim, her family and his family.
“I have talked a lot about why it was wrong and have learned a lot about respect, responsibility and accountability,” he said.
McAlister is now a student at Milton High School, where he is well behaved, Hoag said.
Hoag described McAlister as an excellent basketball and football player last school year who cannot participate in interscholastic athletics as he completes his senior year because of a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletics Association rule. He still hopes to play sports in college, Hoag said.
Hoag suggested the victim bore some responsibility for what happened, saying the situation was “complicated.”
“I don’t care if she was 100% involved in wanting to do this,” Judge John Wood said to McAlister. “That does not excuse your conduct one bit.” The judge added he didn’t want anyone in the courtroom to think the victim deserved what happened to her.
The victims of pornography are re-victimized every time someone downloads the image for the rest of their lives, Wood said.
The judge said his gut told him McAlister should get more punishment, but he decided to go along with the plea agreement, in large part because McAlister had positive things in his background.
“I hope and pray that this is just one horrifically bad decision in your life and it doesn’t get repeated,” Wood said.
Wood allowed McAlister to leave jail to go to school or work and to apply to the sheriff for the chance to serve his time at home with a monitoring bracelet.