Snowball Arrests Make National News

Jeremy Aldrich -- February 9th, 2010

Two JMU students were arrested by the Harrisonburg Police Department on Saturday.  Big deal, right?  But what’s making waves is what they were arrested for, and the charges they now face.

Ryan Knight and Charles Gill, both 21, were arrested in the 1300 block of Devon Lane and charged with throwing missiles at an occupied vehicle, a Class 6 felony.  Their alleged missiles were snowballs, and the story has been picked up by The Smoking Gun and the Drudge Report, which ensures that it will be widely repeated elsewhere.

Below is a screen shot of the Drudge Report headline, which earned a coveted red color for being particularly noteworthy.

Hat tip to Rich Edwards for first making us aware of this story.

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33 Responses to “Snowball Arrests Make National News”

  1. Drew Richard says:

    I remember hearing that throwing snowballs at cars is a felony in 5th grade or maybe middle school. Kinda laughed at the time, but never really forgot that it’s a very bad thing to do. Never thought I’d actually see someone charged with it though. Fantastic way to make national news…I’ve already had 3 people send me that article…

  2. Dan says:

    According to Wikipedia, VA is one of two states to impose lifetime disenfranchisement on anyone who commits a felony. Watch where you aim your snowballs!

  3. JGFitzgerald says:

    Something similar happened once at W&L, where a city street ran between two dorms. The student who threw the projectile — I can’t recall now what it was — didn’t realize the street wasn’t part of the campus. Pled down to a misdemeanor.

  4. eso says:

    If the vehicles were moving, someone could loose control when driving in already bad road if surprised by a flying snow ball in the windshield – especially if it is icy. The statue requires, “the life of any person on such train, car, vessel, […] may be put in peril.” which is a rather high bar to reach. Which else would they be charged with? I don’t think assault would apply since it wasn’t direct bodily contact. If there was damage, they could be charged with destruction of public property, but the story doesn’t indicate there was.
    Since one is on the JMU basketball team, I doubt they will get beyond a suspended sentence.”

  5. A news release from the HPD says:

    “The Harrisonburg Police Department recently charged two individuals for throwing projectiles at moving vehicles.

    On February 6, at 5 p.m. police received a report of individuals throwing snow at a city plow truck. Officers, along with the complainant, responded to the location of the incident in the 1300 block of Devon Lane.

    As the officers arrived on scene, the offenders threw shovels full of snow onto the windshield of the plow truck and at an unmarked HPD vehicle. As the officers were exiting their vehicle, the offenders also threw snow inside of the police vehicle.

    Charles Gill, 21 and Ryan Knight, 21, both of Harrisonburg were charged with throwing a missile at an occupied vehicle.

    From 5:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. on Friday, February 5, HPD received five calls for service for individuals throwing snow at moving vehicles. On Saturday, February 6 HPD received one call for service for the same type of incident.

    The release of this information was to alert residents of the seriousness of throwing objects at vehicles, while the vehicle is in motion. This incident happened in the middle of a snowstorm, when road conditions were already dangerous.

    HPD and the City of Harrisonburg have received numerous calls regarding this incident. Please make note; this incident was more than a few snowballs thrown; it created a safety hazard for the drivers of both vehicles involved as well as adjacent vehicles.”

  6. cook says:

    Interesting that this event took place during the General Assembly session, perhaps as a warning to that august body to reconsider their practice of writing broadly applicable statutes assuming that local law enforcement will exercise discretion and common sense in the application of those laws.

  7. Delataire says:

    Let the punks suffer the consequences of their actions.

  8. eso says:

    cook: I heard an attorney who practices in NoVA talk. He said whenever there was a dispute about happened during the arrest and he tried to subpoena video, it was always “lost” or “damaged”. I was wondering if that happened around here? I was thinking there may be video of what actually happened.

  9. eso says:

    dashboard video I meant to say.

  10. cook says:

    eso: Some local police departments have dashboard video equipment and by policy routinely record incidents, other jurisdictions do not have equipment or do not require officers to record upon arrival at a scene such as the one described here. I certainly think it is good policy to provide equipment and mandate it’s use, especially now that digital equipment is available and data storage requires very little space. I have no personal knowledge whether there is a video recording of this incident, but I expect we’ll know soon enough. What will be happening more and more is video recording by third parties now that more mobile phones have the capacity to record video.

  11. Dave Briggman says:

    Rush Limbaugh dogged the HPD at 1:55 on his show today…mentioned something like he wished the federal government took the matter of terrorism so seriously.

    Cook, if there is a video, isn’t it a record that could be FOIA’d?

  12. Josh says:

    Here’s the exact quote:

    “Felony snowball-throwing charges! My gosh, if we were only this serious about terrorism! My God. I wonder if these guys were Mirandized and I wonder if the Republicans knew about it before it happened.”

    from http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_020910/content/01125100.guest.html

    and

    http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_020910/content/01125104.guest.html (#9)

  13. On the positive side; this will surely be a Stimulus for one or more of our local defense attorneys, and bring more of some college kid parent’s money to Rocktown! Once again, JMU contributes to our local economy. Where these boys from, I want to write a thank you note to their family?

  14. Brooke says:

    Sorry, but I think the police did the right thing. Those boys did something that could have caused a lot of damage or even injury/death. And not only that, when the snow plow called the cops and then came back with the officer, they kept at it.

    Even my 1st grader knows that you don’t throw stuff at vehicles. Come on. There are penalties for doing things that are stupid and reckless that could endanger others. I find it odd that some of the people I am hearing go on about how this is a big deal about nothing are some of the same people who bemoan this generation’s youth having no sense of personal responsibility and not being held accountable for their decisions.

    The snark about terrorism is bull. Just because there’s terrorism out there (that YES, we should be taking seriously) doesn’t mean we don’t continue to press charges and prosecute smaller crimes. I think Rush and the people “ditto”ing him should be taking this more seriously than they are. It wasn’t as simple as throwing snowballs, and yes, they should be charged, and hopefully they’ll learn a valuable lesson, IF people don’t let them weasel out of the charges.

  15. citydweller says:

    well stated brooke! I too often think we don’t hold students accountable for “little things” which is why we sometimes see behavior such as this. I think some people just like to bash the police no matter what. I wonder how many of them would be telling the police to lighten up if the students threw a snowball at them and caused them to wreck? The responses of the people siding with the students really gives you insight into what some teachers/administrators etc…deal with on a daily basis.

  16. Rush doesn’t take anything seriously, except himself, that’s the problem – he all ME, and no WE.

  17. Emmy says:

    I agree 100% with Brooke! My kids would know better than this and they are only in elementary school. If they can figure it out, then adults should be able to figure it out too.

  18. Jamie Smith says:

    Were speed (of any kind) and/or alcohol involved?

  19. mikekeane says:

    i am loving this media frenzy! Have you seen the 10 or more emails the city got about this already? this is getting more attention than the time HPD drove a car into the second level of a house in a high speed chase. I bet DNR wishes it wasn’t behind a pay wall now – what with the huge amount of hits it would have received today.

  20. JGFitzgerald says:

    About that headline: The press release says shovels full of snow. The only mention of snowballs is a sentence that says it was more than just snowballs. Was anybody actually charged with anything having to do with a snowball?

  21. JGFitzgerald says:

    Ignore last comment. I hadn’t read the DNR yet. (Always a last resort.)

  22. BANDIT says:

    If this would of happened to…let’s say a neighbor, would it still be a felony?

  23. Dave Briggman says:

    Yes, it doesn’t matter whose car you throw the snowball at, it’s still a felony.

    Here’s the statute:

    ? 18.2-154. Shooting at or throwing missiles, etc., at train, car, vessel, etc.; penalty.

    Any person who maliciously shoots at, or maliciously throws any missile at or against, any train or cars on any railroad or other transportation company or any vessel or other watercraft, or any motor vehicle or other vehicles when occupied by one or more persons, whereby the life of any person on such train, car, vessel, or other watercraft, or in such motor vehicle or other vehicle, may be put in peril, is guilty of a Class 4 felony. In the event of the death of any such person, resulting from such malicious shooting or throwing, the person so offending is guilty of murder in the second degree. However, if the homicide is willful, deliberate and premeditated, he is guilty of murder in the first degree.

    If any such act is committed unlawfully, but not maliciously, the person so offending is guilty of a Class 6 felony and, in the event of the death of any such person, resulting from such unlawful act, the person so offending is guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

    If any person commits a violation of this section by maliciously or unlawfully shooting, with a firearm, at a conspicuously marked law-enforcement, fire or rescue squad vehicle, ambulance or any other emergency medical vehicle, the sentence imposed shall include a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of one year.

  24. Brooke says:

    Are you asking legally, or what they would have actually been charged with? I think a projectile thrown at a vehicle is a projectile thrown at a vehicle, no matter who is in the car.

  25. Renee says:

    I agree with Brooke & Emmy that they should be punished in some way, as this is a really stupid thing to do and college-aged kids should know better.

    However, charging them with a felony seems a little overboard. That can mean prison, losing voting rights, losing future job prospects, etc…

  26. Deb SF says:

    Apparently, it was not only shovels full of snow, but it was the shovel, too- aimed at a windshield. So I heard at last night’s Hburg Planning Commission meeting.

  27. Mike says:

    “individuals throwing snow at a city plow truck”
    -Hmm…that’s a silly thing to do.

    “As the officers arrived on scene, the offenders threw shovels full of snow onto the windshield of the plow truck and at an unmarked HPD vehicle.”
    -Wow. What a couple of idiots.

    “As the officers were exiting their vehicle, the offenders also threw snow inside of the police vehicle. ”
    -That’s a cry for help. There’s no other explanation.

  28. Karl says:

    The more attention this gets, the more disappointed I am in the national media. Folks that hold themselves up as educated persons not comprehending (or deciding to ignore) that the charge is simply how the law is written. Of course they were not throwing missiles. Guess I shouldn’t expect much from people that do not know the difference between Harrisburg and Harrisonburg.

  29. Karl, don’t you think this happens every day? I would imagine that the majority of those “odd” or “outrageous” stories — fodder for pundits and talk show hosts — are merely ripped from the headlines, and not investigated or confirmed. The only reason we’re seeing the other side of this story is that we happen to live here, and we know more about what happened to the story than Rush Limbaugh’s national audience, who only know that “some kids were arrested for throwing snowballs. What’s this nation coming to?”

  30. Jason says:

    Uh, it was shovels full of snow thrown at a plow’s windshield and inside a cop car. Not quite cute kids throwing harmless snowballs at passing vehicles. The hburgnews.com headline and article are misleading and are only perpetuating the hysteria.

  31. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Jason, the original “Noteworthy Report” from the HPD to the media said:
    “Throwing Items at Occupied Vehicles
    2/6/2010 5:04 p.m.
    1300 block of Devon Lane
    Two males reported two unknown males threw snowballs at their vehicles. Ryan Knight, 21, of Harrisonburg and Charles Gill, 21, of Harrisonburg were both charged with throwing missiles at an occupied vehicle.”

    Here are the headlines from other news sources regarding this story:
    DNR – JMU Students Face Felony Charges For Snowballs
    WHSV – JMU Students Arrested For Throwing Snowballs At Police
    Richmond Times-Dispatch – Police say throwing snowballs at occupied vehicles isn’t a harmless prank.
    The Smoking Gun – Felony Snowball Tossing Charges Lodged

    I provided a direct link to the part of the state code they were charged with violating. What about the headline and article do you find misleading?

  32. True. “Snowballs” was the language originally used by the HPD. I think the subsequent releases avoided that word. In retrospect, I’m sure they realize the word was probably a mistake.

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