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Why those planning a 'creepy clown' prank should think twice

Anyone who's read their preferred newspaper site, listened to talk radio or tuned into an evening news broadcast over the last few weeks has undoubtedly heard some report about the "creepy clown sightings" popping up by the dozens across the nation, including right here in Tennessee.

On the off chance, you're unfamiliar with this development, people across the nation -- mostly teens and young adults -- have been dressing up in frightening clown costumes and roaming the streets at all hours of the night to scare people in various ways. 

In addition, the phenomenon has also resulted in innumerable social media posts, some of which threaten actual acts of violence by figures in clown costumes, as well as innumerable fake reports to law enforcement agencies about frightening or even violent conduct by figures in clown costumes.

While it goes without saying that anyone who chooses to dress up like a clown, and threaten others, brandish a weapon and/or commit an assault will find themselves facing criminal charges in the Volunteer State, it's important to understand that those who fabricate stories about menacing clowns to law enforcement officials as a prank could also find themselves in similar trouble with the law.

Indeed, Tennessee law expressly prohibits the following:

  • Initiating a report/statement to a law enforcement official concerning an incident or offense within their concern knowing that 1) it did not occur, 2) they have no information relating to the incident or offense, or 3) the information supplied relating to the incident or offense that is false
  • Intentionally circulating or initiating a report of a past, present or impending fire, bombing or other emergency knowing its false, and that it will 1) produce a response by an agency tasked with these matters, 2) place a person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury, or 3) prevent/interrupt occupation of buildings, places of assembly and other places with public access.   

Lest a person be tempted to discount the severity of filing false report charges, consider that the first offense outlined above is charged as a Class D felony, punishable by two to 12 years in prison and fines of up to $5,000, while the second offense outlined above is charged as a Class C felony, punishable by three to 15 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

Accordingly, those young people thinking of playing upon someone's coulrophobia -- fear of clowns -- might want to think twice as it can be dangerous to all parties and result in potentially serious consequences.

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Mathis, Bates & Klinghard PLLC
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