It's safe to wear light-up sweatshirts in Boston again

Star Simpson, everybody's favorite LED-bedecked MIT student, got pre-trial probation today after Suffolk County prosecutors acknowledged they didn't have enough evidence to actually charge her with a felony.

You may recall how Simpson was surrounded by police with drawn guns and charged with possession of a "hoax device" after showing up at Logan last September with what proved to be an LED star embroidered in the sweatshirt she was wearing to greet her boyfriend in. An airport worker called in the big guns when she told her it was "art," then turned away and walked out of the terminal.

At a hearing in East Boston District Court today, Simpson was put on one year of supervised pre-trial probation on a reduced charge of disorderly conduct, ordered to perform 50 hours of community service – at least half of which must be spent with veterans of the United States armed forces – and write a letter of apology.

The Suffolk DA's office says:

If Simpson completes those obligations and does not re-offend in any way, then the charge will be dismissed. If she does not meet those terms, the case will be returned to the court docket for trial.

Simpson was initially charged with possession of a hoax device. After an extensive review of the facts and the law – which would require specifically proving that she had "the intent to cause anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort" when she wore a sweatshirt decorated with light-emitting diodes into Logan on Sept. 21, 2007 – prosecutors determined that they could not move forward on that count and dismissed it to the disorderly charge.

Prosecutors additionally weighed Simpson's behavior that morning against her lack of a criminal record, her academic involvement, and the sobering experience of her arrest at gunpoint by members of the Massachusetts State Police responding to what they believed to be a security threat.

Neighborhoods: 

Topics: 

Free tagging: 

Ad:

Comments

Win one for the good guys

By on

But this statement from the DA's office leaves open the possibility that if you were to go down to the airport just to wear an LED shirt (because you should be able to without incident), that you'd likely fall foul of the "intent" crap.

Also, what's with the garbage about her academic involvement and her "sobering arrest"? So, if the cops are insane and over-reactive, then the DA will take it easy on me? Because I go to school, I'm allowed certain indiscretions? What if she was a perpetual pickpocket who dropped out of high school and the cops weren't so ballistic? Then she's going to GITMO as an LED terrorist??

This statement falls far short of the "we totally over-reacted to a fashion decision, our apologies to those affected, we'll try to do better next time" that should have resulted from this inanity.

up
Voting is closed. 0

They're Still Pressing Charges?

By on

Sheesh. I can't believe they even have enough evidence to support a disorderly conduct charge.

up
Voting is closed. 0

against the wrong person

The police officers should be charged with disorderly conduct, not Star Simpson. She was just standing there. The police conduct caused all of the subsequent disorder.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Actually, Ron...

She wasn't "just standing there."

She was walking away. Without answering a fairly
simple question, like how come there are a bunch
of lights and wires sticking out of your shirt
here at the airport?

Whole thing could have been avoided if she'd been
responsive to the legit questions the staff at Logan
had asked her.

This life is hard, but it's harder if you're stupid.

up
Voting is closed. 0

exactly

By on

...she violated the cardinal rule of the MIT hacker "ethos"- don't cause problems. That's why every MIT dome "hack" comes with instructions on disassembly/removal, is carefully considered for safety, etc. It's also why the MIT group that tours the underground tunnel areas picks the locks harmlessly, rather than stealing keys or breaking the locks.

up
Voting is closed. 0

They got you believing it!

By on

Having been involved in some recon and crowd control ops as an undergrad, you're being a bit romantic here.

Not all is so tidy and nice. MA has traffic laws, but people don't bother with them much of the time. Similar situation with hacking - some follow code, others just do.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Actually, Bob.

By on

She answered the question. This has been reported numerous times. She responded to the question by saying the shirt was a "piece of art". Even the DA admits that she DID respond when asked what the shirt was. Recall the progression of truth, though.

When she was arrested, the cops insisted she didn't answer any questions. By the time she was arraigned, the DA was saying she DID answer questions, but evidently didn't answer them properly enough. One guesses the truth is one step further removed that when she realized she was being asked a question, she answered and continued on with her life.

MAYBE the concern and suspicion was justified, but the fact remains that there was no intent here. I'd be more willing to excuse the "better safe than sorry" attitude if they were willing to step away from blaming people who get them scared for no good reason. Maybe they were right to be cautious, but once they realized she was no threat, that should have been the end of it. Dragging her through court for 8 months served nothing beyond extorting her into doing community service to make this go away. Heck, they could have just asked her to do some volunteer work and saved us ALL the trouble if that's all we have to show for this. The amount of time and money wasted on trying prosecute someone for someone else being scared of them is a bad joke.

up
Voting is closed. 0

So the reporting here is wrong then?

From UH today:

"Airport workers called in the big guns when, instead of
answering them about her sweatshirt, she turned around
and walked out of the terminal."

So if your assertion that she did answer the question
is correct, the story is being reported incorrectly.
Take it up with Adam.

In either case, her answer or non-answer plus her
demeanor was enough to cause the Logan employee to
alert security.

My point is that if she had had the common sense
(and common courtesy) to make it clear to the Logan
employee what was going on, the whole thing could have
been avoided. She acted like a self-absorbed, narcissistic
moron. I'm not shedding any tears for her.

up
Voting is closed. 0

I could be wrong

By on

Must admit I haven't kept up with every last report on l'affaire Star.

This Globe story (written by THREE staffers) the day of the arrest has a Statie saying she simply turned away.

This story, from March, has her lawyer claiming she actually interacted with an airport employee, by agreeing to turn the thing off.

And this Herald story (from today, so you know it's fresh), says she did respond when asked what the thing was, then walked away (the story also calls her sweatshirt idea "bizarre," because, apparently, life for Herald reporters stopped in 1994 or something and they've never heard of LEDs).

So I'll fix the post.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Official misrepresentation

By on

As is often the case, the first story from the cops gets the most play and the most traction. But even the DA was walking it back within hours. The MIT Tech quoted a spokesperson for the Suffolk County DA in saying that she did respond, but insisted she had to be asked more than once and claimed that she refused to answer more questions, though doesn't say what they were or how they were asked. This story is dated in the evening as opposed to the Globe which only quoted the cops in the afternoon. But the story from the cops came first and is what people remember. Personally, I'm upset that there doesn't seem to be any consequences for the Stattie who was contradicted by the DA's office within hours of his morning press conference. This is how "guilty before proven innocent" takes hold and I don't know why cops who overstate evidence to the press aren't held to account for that more often. I've seen it happen a lot and the media needs to scrutinize those statements more.

up
Voting is closed. 0

My hope for you

By on

I hope you never leave a store knowing that you paid for what is in your bag, just to have the detector go off at the door as a false alarm. You keep walking towards your car knowing that it went off on 3 other people before you left and nobody cared because it "happens all the time".

I hope you don't get arrested for shoplifting even though you abide by everything the cop and security guard tell you and even provide a receipt for everything in the bag. But now that you've caused such a scene, they give you probation and make you clean the parking lot for 50 hours.

I mean, if you are just going to leave the store because you thought it would be okay since you knew everything you were doing was above the board, but they over-reacted, then you must be some sort of self-absorbed, narcissistic moron, right?

Seriously, I hope you don't ever find yourself in a correlated example of where acting slightly aloof might bring down the mighty hammer of justice and only pull it back at the last second to still stick you with a misdemeanor on your record...even though you did absolutely nothing illegal.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Since the Basement is out of business

I am heading directly to Marshalls now.

I have this wicked cool artistic hat
that's made up of those theft prevention devices
that they attach to clothes, and remove at the
register.

Will be wearing my theft prevention hat, doing
a square-dance doh-see-doh at the detector near
the door.

What could go wrong? I just hope those Mall
cops are art lovers.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Results

By on

If they act like you're public enemy #1 instead of asking you to leave the hat in the car or stop dancing by the doorway, I'll cover your court costs.

In the meantime, it's when you're going about your business without believing your actions are causing any harm (because they are completely benign) that you'll be stopped, questioned, and charged with a litany of criminal offenses just so the misdemeanor can stick. That's when you'll be that narcissistic moron.

up
Voting is closed. 0

No, she actually did answer

By on

No, she actually did answer the questions that the airport information clerk put to her. As far as we know, she did everything right and nothing wrong at all.

up
Voting is closed. 0

ugh

By on

This statement falls far short of the "we totally over-reacted to a fashion decision, our apologies to those affected, we'll try to do better next time" that should have resulted from this inanity.

She showed up at an airport wearing a prototyping board with exposed wiring and blinking lights, duct-taped to her chest.

She was carrying white/grey putty in her hands, and while PE comes in all sorts of colors (including bright yellow), the movies typically show...drumroll please...white putty.

When asked by someone at the airport information booth (when she asked for flight information for her beau) what the device on her was, she ignored the person and walked away. At that point, the person called security, and provided the information they knew: circuit board, wiring, putty, and the person walked away and ignored them when they asked what it was.

Now, I'm as ready as the next guy to complain about over-reacting tacticool cops and such, but give me a fucking break. The whole thing seemed almost calculated to provoke a response for political or publicity reasons. And did she think anyone would believe her story about how the setup was "to impress potential employers at the career fare"? Either she thinks we're pretty stupid, or MIT's standards have drastically fallen (on the plus side, she's a candidate for the MIT "Media" "Lab".)

Oh, fun tidbit: I mentioned "Star" to an MIT student a few month ago and she said: "I saw her and her boyfriend sneaking into one of our conferences. They snuck out with plates loaded up with food." Nice! (the conference was for something Star, especially as a undergrad student in the sciences, had no business being at.)

up
Voting is closed. 0

Her boyfriend is a known

By on

Her boyfriend is a known [rude word, redacted]. Not surprising. Given that he's past 40 (ewww), he should really know better.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Tidbit

By on

I had an early evening thesis defense and provided an assortment of very high-quality hors d'oeuvres, cheeses, fruits, and desserts out for my committee and attendees to partake in.

The table wasn't even finished being set up by my family yet when a pair of undergrads walked over and grabbed a few things and then wandered off. My grandmother said she would have gone over and swatted it out of their hands if she had been mobile enough to get there quickly. I told her it happens all the time in a university.

The moral of the story is: if there's free food at a talk in a university, it's first come, first served. Different strokes for different folks. I have been known to take the food and leave. Most times there's a ton left over later anyways and it just goes to waste. You might even run into someone you know before the talk while you're there.

At least when she left with the food, SWAT teams didn't descend out of the skylights worried that she might be arming a potato salad gun.

up
Voting is closed. 0

meh

By on

ZOMG!! undergrad takes free food!!! story at 11!

up
Voting is closed. 0

If your intent in wearing

By on

If your intent in wearing such a shirt is to cause anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort when you take your trip to Logan, then the answer is yes -- you could be charged under MGL Ch. 266, Sect. 102A1/2.

With regard to mitigating factors, they are considered in every sentencing hearing every day in every jurisdiction in Massachusetts. An individual attending school or working full-time is significantly less likely to re-offend, and preventing subsequent offenses is one of the traditional and longstanding goals of any sentence handed down by any court. Her arrest by state troopers pointing loaded MP-5s at her was, I'd wager, also as effective a deterrent as just about any realistic sentence likely to be handed down.

The maximum -- maximum! -- sentence your hypothetical recidivist pickpocket would face on a disorderly charge, even with the most egregious facts, with no intent to cause fear is six months. Not quite a one-way ticket to Cuba.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Uh, deterrent to what? It

By on

Uh, deterrent to what? It bears repeating, there was no crime here. Police overreaction, yes. Enormous effort at face-saving, yes. Howls from the echo chamber, yes.

But at root this is the story of a woman who was trying to impress her boyfriend, but missed his arrival. To turn this into a news event is ludicrous. Oh, wait. This is Boston, where it's dangerous to put out traffic counting devices, or be a harpsichordist wandering free. I take it all back.

up
Voting is closed. 0

No crime?

By on

My understanding of the situation is that she did commit a crime--if she didn't, they couldn't have charged her at all. I think it's reasonable to say that wearing an object that looks like a bomb in an airport is going to make people very frightened; that sounds like disorderly conduct to me, and worth trying to make laws to prevent.

I don't think the relevant comparison here is walking out of a store and beeping unwittingly. I think this is more on par with walking into a train station carrying a claymore across your back because you just got finished with your larp weaponry practice and didn't think to change. MIT isn't a normal place, and while it's a wonderful, not-normal place, I think it's reasonable to ask those wacky kids to leave their weird in their dorm rooms.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Ha! Nice one.

According to Star's statement/apology in today's Globe, "Although I never intended to act in a disorderly fashion...." Ha -- "disorderly fashion." A perfect description.

up
Voting is closed. 0

the MIT angle to the story

By on

Very big at MIT, is why the Institute administration issued a statement almost immediately after the arrest calling Simpson's conduct "reckless" -- and never defended so much as her right to fair treatment in the face of relentless media ridicule and attack.

Here's some comments by MIT Prof. Patrick Winston (former head of the AI lab):
http://people.csail.mit.edu/phw/star.html

And by several other MIT professors
http://www-tech.mit.edu/V128/N17/facultyopn.html

Many students see a larger issue here for MIT:
http://www-tech.mit.edu/V127/N41/protest/letter.html

up
Voting is closed. 0