A Brief Arrest Record of Time

By Mark Dennehy: Holy hell – “9th Grader Arrested, Searched for Building a Clock” (on Hackaday.)

A 14-year-old in Dallas, Texas has been arrested for bringing a clock to his school. [Ahmed Mohamed] could be any one of us. He’s a tinkerer, pulling apart scrap appliances and building projects from the parts. He was a member of the his middle school robotics team. The clock was built from a standard four digit seven segment display and a circuit board. [Ahmed] built the circuit inside a Vaultz hard pencil case like this one. He then did what every other experimenter, inventor, hacker, or maker before him has done: He showed off his creation.

Unfortunately for [Ahmed] one of his teachers immediately leapt to the conclusion that this electronic project was a “hoax bomb” of some sort. The police were called, [Ahmed] was pulled out of class and arrested. He was then brought to a detention center where he and his possessions were searched. [Ahmed] is now serving a three-day suspension from school. His clock is considered evidence to be used in a possible criminal case against him.

The teenage geek with the ham radio license in me who built this sort of thing for fun and amusement and who went on to become an engineer and build more fun stuff is particularly miffed at that.

And so are a whole bunch of NASA types (he was arrested wearing a NASA shirt for cryin’ out loud):

Along with an admittedly sarcastic mars rover:

And a science fiction author you might have heard of:

And a mythbuster:

Not to mention the President:

The hashtag’s gone viral:


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64 thoughts on “A Brief Arrest Record of Time

  1. File this under stupid racist authority figures. Idiots need to consider the demographics of the area they work and live in.

    You think with all the technology companies, hams and hacker spaces we have in the DFW area, someone with some sense would have dismissed this earlier. At least it wasn’t my or my spouses alma mater, but her arch rival’s high school.

    (My only oops moment as a youngster was causing a traffic jam in front of my school during finals while taking photos of a solar eclipse with a 8″ Celestron. Got the shots and a mild WTF from the head of the science department.)

  2. @David K. M. Klaus: What you said. Except that distinguishing arrest from detaining in USA law isn’t quite that simple, as there are no bright lines, and leading cases such as 2011’s U.S. v. Bullock (see link) where handcuffs were used on a detained suspect but all five other relevant factors (amount of force used, need for force, number of officers, lack of suspicion of the suspect being armed, length of the stop) made it be detention rather than arrest.

    Best advice to anyone detained by police, including a 14-year-old high school student, is to politely decline to answer any questions or make comments, bear in mind that you might be under arrest and the officers have no obligation to so inform you (Miranda warnings being needed only when they want to use subsequent answers in evidence), and at intervals ask if you may leave (and leave the officers’ vicinity the moment the answer’s ‘yes’). If told you’re under arrest, state immediately you wish to speak to an attorney, and say you’ll not be answering any questions. Then, shut up and wait. Assume ‘just a few questions’ is detained; assume detained may be arrested.

    I hope ACLU (of whom I’ve been a member for 39 years) help the Mohamed family take Irving’s lunch money for (1) false arrest, (2) failure to Mirandise a minor suspect upon arrest, and (3) failure to notify Mohamed of his arrest and various rights he had upon arrest.

    Point of clarification: A police officer cannot ‘charge’ (indict) anyone of a crime. Nor can a city’s police chief. Peace officers can arrest and hold someone with a recommendation (to the DA) of charges. Whether indictment (formal accusation, technically called an ‘information’ except in the rare case of it originating with a grand jury) follows is always within the sole discretion of a judge, which is what the preliminary hearing’s all about. Unless that happens, all you’ve heard is some officer’s opinion that (per se) means absolutely nothing.

    Some other aspects of this case, such as Irving PD either incompetently or deliberately failing to understand Texas’s ‘hoax bomb’ statute (Texas Penal Code Annotated section 46.08, for those interested) are basically a political problem, which is unfortunate because, well, it’s Irving, TX.

    (ETA: Example of the latter is the outrageously not-yet-cancelled three day suspension. Someone on the Board of Education should have intervened immediately, and failure to do so can be ascribed only to local idiocy.)

  3. @David K. M. Klaus:

    Sovereign immunity laws will very probably protect the school board, the city, the police department, the principal, the uniforms who kidnapped him, and the idiot-with-a-certificate “teacher” from civil liability regardless of their actual physical responsibility, so he won’t be compensated for the current and future wrongs being done him.

    No, this is a common misconception about sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity in the USA blocks litigation against the Federal government, the 50 state governments, and the District of Columbia government except where those entities have waived the sovereign right. It in no way immunises cities, counties, their mayors, their police officers, their police chiefs, their sheriffs and deputies and other peace officers, their prison employees and officials, their school principals and teachers, etc.

    The main vehicle for combating abuse of law by such officials is a civil rights lawsuit under Federal statute 42 U.S.C. 1983, which you can read about here. Ahmed Mohamed’s family should be filing a Section 1983 lawsuit in, you should pardon the phrase, a New York minute.

    (Correcting an error in my prior comment: Should be the local school district that burns rubber cancelling the idiotic three-day suspension, not the Board of Education.)

  4. Should be the local school district that burns rubber cancelling the idiotic three-day suspension

    The local school district should have a school board, AKA a board of education.
    If you meant the state board of education – I’m not sure Texas has one. Or at least. not one that’s worth anything.

  5. @P J Evans:

    This is doubtless an area of law I don’t know enough about. But:

    In my area, the Board of Education is a county elected body that provides money and administrative support for school districts, regulates their business aspects (such as accounting and auditing), and sets standards for instruction policies and curriculum. But it doesn’t act as line management for any school.

    Instead, each school district, which is a special district with a defined geographical area supported by parcel taxes, has an elective Governing Board that appoints a Superintendent of Instruction to handle day-to-day management. Teachers report to their principal, but all of those report to the Superintendent of Instruction who has authority to hire and fire and overrule their decisions if necessary. By contrast, the seven members of my County Board of Education, wishing to do something about a teacher or principal being idiotic, have only the power to glare in disapproval but have no line management authority over school personnel whatsoever.

    It’s possible they do things differently in Texas, but above is to my knowledge the standard model.

  6. Having checked the follow-on news coverage, there’s the expected damning silence from Irving Independent School District, headed by Superintendent of Schools Jose L. Parra, the direct line management for MacArthur High School principal Daniel Cummings and the unnamed English teacher. Ditto the damning silence from Irving PD Chief Larry Boyd and Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, though the latter amended her initial support for Irving ISD to say that she’d be ‘very upset’ if the same thing had happened to her own child.

    In lieu of corrective action from Superintendent Parra, we have… a PR statement from MacArthur High School’s director of communications Lesley Weaver, who is ‘handling’ the resulting catastrophic press by saying Mohamed is welcome back if his parents lose their minds and reverse their decision to change schools. Mouthpiece Weaver added that the three-day suspension remains in place and is justified because the clock ‘can be perceived to pose a threat’ — and praised the carefully unnamed English teacher.

    Irving residents emerge from this incident with one bit of knowledge for certain: that Irving ISD, its high schools, and its police department are not competent to handle either real bombs or fake ones.

    And Ahmed Mohamed”s request to get his clock back from Irving PD is still unanswered, so apparently there’s zero respect for private property, too.

  7. Texas has a State School Board, an elected position that is filled with….well, let’s put it this way. Until recently, the Chairman of it was a Creationist from a very small town.

    They set curriculum standards for the state and handle the major textbook choices for the state.

    Each school district has their own elected school board (locals) who are, as noted, either people who really are into education or have a major bone to pick and got in in an election where, if you’re lucky, there’s a 5% turnout. (In a nearby town of 20,000 or so, the last school board election I saw had the winner with…700 votes).

    The school board chooses the superintendent and has a great, great deal of power over the schools and curriculum. How much depends on how unified a board majority there is, public interest (the meetings are open, but few people attend unless something major or upsetting occurs).

    Depending on the ISD in question, teachers may or may not be sheltered from board member whims (it depends on how strong the administrative staff is and how independent the Superintendent is). Texas has no tenure, btw — everyone has one, two or three year contracts. (Technically some ‘lifetime contracts’ exist, but if there’s a dozen in the state anymore I’d be shocked. They were phased out decades ago).

    It’s really variable. I’ve seen superintendents run a district like a fiefdom, with a disinterested Board who only intervenes if there’s obvious lawbreaking. And even then, they’d try to deny it. I’ve seen districts where everyone, from newest teacher to longest serving principal, walks softly around Board members.

    My current district saw the most petty of the Board (the “Do you know who I am?” type who tried to throw around her Board position when her kid got in trouble) get booted awhile back. Nobody really cared about her threats, because as of the moment our local board has a solid majority of competent, long-serving folks who wouldn’t indulge her tantrums.

  8. Rick Moen:

    Thank you for the clarification on “charging” — it’s one I used to know, but had forgotten, and the correction about sovereign immunity. I hope that the law permits these people to be sued as individuals, not just as governmental officials; if it was their own money they were risking with bullying instead of taxpayers’, it’s a reasonable presumption that they’d be much less likely to be bullies.

    I realize there are niceties, but it seems to me a good practical definition is if they’ve put you in cuffs, you’re under kidnapping arrest, no matter what they might call it, and should comport your mouth accordingly.

  9. Bristol Palin (or whoever ghostwrites for her) has opined from her close view of the situation in Alaska that the school and the Irving police did a wizard job of protecting the citizenry, swallowing the “hoax bomb” excuse for abuse whole-heartedly, and based on her extensive knowledge of electronics and engineering pronounced “It doesn’t look like a pencil case to me.”

    She also think that inviting the kid to the White House to partially, temporarily, soften the lifetime damage done to him is thereby showing racial preference for him, encouraging racial strife, and brings closer the day that her toddler will be racially oppressed.

  10. It’s one example of what is being posted on the web not in the fannish / maker / tech spheres. We’re all doing a lot of preaching to the choir, but there is a much larger population of bigots, illiterates, and innumerates who think that “muzlim” kid got away with something Evil, and only the Stalwart Defenders of Texas saved a school from a dire event.

    I’m not paranoid enough to think a mob with torches and pitchforks is gathering, but fuggheads remain out there.

  11. It’s one example of what is being posted on the web not in the fannish / maker / tech spheres. We’re all doing a lot of preaching to the choir, but there is a much larger population of bigots, illiterates, and innumerates who think that “muzlim” kid got away with something Evil, and only the Stalwart Defenders of Texas saved a school from a dire event.

    I don’t think anyone at file770 is unaware of this fact. After all we are discussing a kid getting detained/arrested/suspended from school for bringing a clock to school because of his skin color and religious practices.

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