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The Truth About Our Stranger-Danger Society

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Slade Sohmer

By Slade Sohmer on March 19, 2012

IMPORTANT UPDATE: The original story below was based entirely on the word of Rodney Peterson, who claimed he simply offered to give two underdressed teenagers a ride home in a snowstorm. Peterson on Monday pled guilty to a Disorderly Conduct charge. Why? Because his story was mostly bogus. We received this note from the Office of the Chief of Police in Barrington:

He was sentenced by Judge Anthony Iosco to two years supervision, a $400 fine and prohibited from having contact with the two students or their families. Mr. Peterson was represented by an attorney in the Cook County courthouse in Rolling Meadows, IL. The students and their families were present in court.

Police provided evidence to the Village Prosecutor that, contrary to news reports and Mr. Peterson’s statements to police and the press, there was no snowstorm yet nor was it snowing at the time of the incident. Further, investigation leading up to the charges showed that the students were dressed properly for the weather in coats and one wearing boots. That evidence came from area business security camera video and squad car camera video of unrelated police traffic stops at the time the incident first occurred.

After first spotting the students at a gas station Mr. Peterson lost sight of them. A couple minutes later after paying for his gas, he drove down the alley into the neighborhood to look for them. They were not in any distress or in need of any assistance whatsoever. It wasn’t dark out and they were in a residential neighborhood. Mr. Peterson tried to engage the students, asking them how far they had to walk home and if they needed a ride. The students said they did not have far to walk and waived him on.


The original story remains below for reference …


“This is a good deed gone wrong …” –Rodney Peterson

For all the public shaming that comes with the bystander effect, for all the media mentions of the since-debunked inaction by Kitty Genovese’s neighbors, the truth about the state of our stranger-danger society is that involving yourself in the affairs of others can often a terrible decision.

Rodney Peterson of Barrington, Illinois, seems to have learned this lesson the hard way this week.

If Peterson’s story is to be believed, on March 2, during a snowstorm, he saw two teenage girls with “no umbrella, no coats or hood.” He exited the Shell station from which the girls had just walked away, spotted the 13-year-olds down the road and asked “How far do you have to walk?”

All those school assemblies paid off; the girls did the right thing. They waved Peterson away and wrote down his license plate for follow-up, CBS2 in Chicago reported. The Barrington police chief would later describe the girls as “alarmed and disturbed.”

Police showed up to his house three days later and listened to the father of three’s version of events. Deeming it insufficient, they charged him with disorderly conduct. Peterson’s wife, who was not there at the time, vouched for her husband: “It really was a good deed, just misinterpreted.”

Peterson is due to appear in court on Monday and faces a max fine of $750.

A couple of points for discussion here:

• There is no (public) physical evidence that Peterson’s intentions were anything but honorable. It’s literally impossible to defend yourself against a he said-they said allegation, so in order to stay out of trouble, the only solution these days is a policy of strict isolationism. Congress, local and state legislatures: Remember this story the next time you think about passing any Good Samaritan laws. [UPDATE: There was evidence, just not public evidence at the time.]

• With no comment from the girls or the parents/guardians of the girls, clearly we’re not getting the full story here. Peterson can swear he wasn’t being a creepy stranger, but what exactly left the girls feeling “alarmed and disturbed” by the encounter? More context is needed. [UPDATE: Yeah, we’d be alarmed and disturbed by that too.]

• Where were the parents/guardians of these girls? How did two 13-year-old girls end up outside a Shell station without proper weather gear in the middle of a snowstorm? [UPDATE: They weren’t underdressed. Fibber!]

• The police obviously believe Peterson’s approach was shady. If that’s the case, why is this only a minor offense and a $750 fine? So any ol’ dude can try to pick up a pair of 13-year-old girls, get laughed away and pay a $750 fine if it doesn’t work out? That seems … odd. After this news report aired, pervs throughout the Chicagoland area began readying their suits for Bat Mitzvah season. [UPDATE: This still stands. Why is this a slap on the wrist?]

• Peterson should really think about getting a new car. This doesn’t scream “good deeds.”


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