St. Clairsville faces sexting issue

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Belmont County Prosecutor Dan Fry said more than 20 students already have been interviewed – and another 10 to 15 still could be – in a case involving cell phones and sexting at St. Clairsville High School.

Fry has referred the case on to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, explaining investigation by local law enforcement could result in a perceived conflict of interest based on the names on the list of students interviewed. Fry said he met with the investigating BCI agent Tuesday morning to discuss the case.

Sexting is legally defined as the sending of sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone.

“I would say the number of students involved is in the double digits.” Fry said. “They (St. Clairsville Police officers) interviewed in excess of 20 students, and once I saw the names and realized there may be conflicts, I decided to have the bureau take over.”

Fry estimates another 10 to 15 students may be interviewed as “in excess of 30 students have been identified” for contacting.

“Whether they all were involved, I can’t say that,” Fry said.

St. Clairsville Police Officer Jeff Gazdik, school resource officer at St. Clairsville High School, conducted the interviews, Fry said.

“I was advised there were some kids allegedly involved on our lists of contact that could create an appearance of conflict, and I want to avoid that,” he said. “I have asked (the St. Clairsville Police Department) to stop, and I will have BCI do the entire investigation. … Even if there isn’t out and out conflict, we don’t want appearance of any conflict. The BCI will do an impartial investigation.”

The cell phones of at least 20 students have been confiscated and will be the subject of forensic testing at BCI. Because of this, it’s not likely the investigation will be completed quickly.

“It will be extensive and will take some time,” Fry said. “I told the agent I want it done as expeditiously as possible, but also as thoroughly as possible. … I understand the position (parents) are in, but we want the investigation done as completely as possible. I am confident BCI will do that.”

Calls to the St. Clairsville-Richland City School District offices Tuesday afternoon went to voicemail, and messages seeking comment were not immediately returned.