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OPINION - The end of 'Nerf wars'

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) In the next day or two the Nerf wars story will fade to the background. Wausau's police chief Jeff Hardell voided the disorderly conduct charges against six Wausau-West students earlier this week. They agreed to take part in an informational video about circumstances were the game might have gone too far.

The resolution to this story is less-than-satisfying. Two of the students confirm they were sitting inside their car -- nothing more nothing less -- when the police rolled up on them. They were ordered out at gunpoint, handcuffed, put in the back of the squad car, had their vehicle searched, and were then ticketed for disorderly conduct.

If that's the way the story unfolded, the students were falsely charged. There is nothing disorderly about sitting in a car on the side of a road. And, I would argue, the students were falsely detained. They could sue Wausau PD for false arrest. (Wausau police will argue strenuously that the students weren't arrested; that they were subjected to a 'high-risk traffic stop' instead. I disagree. They were detained and they were charged. The origin of the search a 911 caller who couldn't tell the difference between a Nerf gun and a real firearm is thin. And police, who'd sent a warning letter home to Wausau West parents a day earlier, were certainly aware that these were Nerf gun kids instead of armed perpetrators.)

These teens cut a deal that they didn't have to take. These charges should have been voided unconditionally . And, if the kids went to court, I'm certain they would have won an acquittal.

Before we drop the subject, there are a few more things to be said about Nerf wars. In other cities this game has included people shooting at each other from moving vehicles. That is reckless, criminal behavior. Nerf war players are also breaking the law if they trespass on private property or if they damage private property. The six students who were charged were not engaged in any of that behavior. This looks like a scare-straight attempt by police. The only lesson these kids have learned is that sometimes adults overreact.

Chris Conley
4.30.14

Image: Nerf gun by Luyio on Apr 28, 2011 via Creative Commons.com