Now THIS Is An Unethical Joke…

Ohio couple Micah Risner and his fiancée Nataleigh Schlette, mad wags that they are, decided to play an elaborate  practical joke on their families. The two pranksters staged gory photos of Schlette’s supposedly mutilated body (that’s one of them above) and sent the fake murder scene to family members. Risner texted his sister saying, “Please help me! I really didn’t mean to. I don’t remember. We was arguing and I woke up to this.” (His sister advised him how to cover up the murder. She wasn’t joking. I wonder if she also advised him to learn basic grammar? )

Other family members called the police, and when officers arrived to the abode where Risner and Schlette resided,  Schlette was alive and well!



 The police were not amused for some reason, and arrested them—HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! –charging them under an oddball Ohio statute making it a crime to “induce panic”:

2917.31 Inducing panic.

(A) No person shall cause the evacuation of any public place, or otherwise cause serious public inconvenience or alarm, by doing any of the following:

(1) Initiating or circulating a report or warning of an alleged or impending fire, explosion, crime, or other catastrophe, knowing that such report or warning is false;

(2) Threatening to commit any offense of violence;

(3) Committing any offense, with reckless disregard of the likelihood that its commission will cause serious public inconvenience or alarm.

Prof. Turley, who found this gem, opines that the charge probably won’t stick, and I agree, especially since the family members aren’t pressing charges. This was a prank, and not aimed at “the public.” He suggests that police would have a better case if the hoax was on social media. I agree with that, too. Is it possible that the police knew this, but arrested them anyway to teach these idiots a lesson? If so, that was an abuse of power and process, and unethical.

I’m glad the police did it, though.

I suppose this is where I should admit that I have a long record of pulling scary practical jokes, especially in my college and grad school years. I was famous for decades at the Cambridge Savings Bank for faking my suicide by hanging by my tie, from a hook, in a dark records vault lighted by only a single, dangling, dim light bulb.  I had a note pinned to my suit, my tongue lolling, and in the scant lighting nobody noticed that I was on my toes, swaying. The scene caused the famously stuffy bank president to scream like a little girl when he opened the vault door (I wasn’t expecting him to be my first victim.) Moral luck: he was very amused, and we spent the next hour with me hanging from that hook as he called employees down one by one to see the grisly scene, just so he could hear them scream.) I also once got revenge on two college room mates for leaving me to spend a nervous night alone in a house we were painting in Truro, on Cape Cod, shortly after headless torsos had been found in the nearby woods. My roomies Dick and Chip arrived the next morning to find my grotesquely posed body lying, open-eyed, in a pool of  ketchup on the kitchen floor.

It was great.

In both cases, however, my fake demise lasted less than five seconds. I would no more have allowed photos of these faux horror scenes to be sent to my grandmother, parents and sister (well, maybe my sister) than I would have thrown a live hand grenade at them.

That photo is designed to cause grief and horror, if not panic. Inflicting intentional emotional distress to that degree is a tort, not a joke.

Good job faking the murder scene,  though…


8 thoughts on “Now THIS Is An Unethical Joke…

  1. So, which rationalization can be summarized as “It’s ok because of the way it turned out!” Your little pranks — especially the bank vault — could have been reasonably foreseen to create emotional distress or worse (for example, if a person with a heart problem opened the vault). Now, I like such pranks but it can certainly be persuasively argued that even your “small” and quickly terminated were unethical because they do not take into account the potential consequences.

    • I grew up in a house where one parent liked scaring us for amusement. Scared the hell out of me a few times, but I got her good too. No, I don’t scare people any more; I was under 21 in my prime, and I’ve learned that it’s not worth the risk, tiny as it is. (When was the last time you heard of someone dropping dead of a heart attack after a practical joke? I’ve never heard of one.) If either of my two athlete 20-year old roomies had dropped dead of fright, I’d say that it was beyond anticipation—no, that one wasn’t irresponsible. The other one? I reasonably assumed one of my 20-something teller friends would open the vault. If we are going to regard the smallest risk as irresponsible (that would be the ethics breach, if there is one), then virtually all practical jokes are per se unethical.

  2. Perhaps I am overly somber, but I don’t like such jokes. But then, I tend to react rather violently to being scared, too. However, to put this in perspective, over the course of a 30 year career, I have lost 4 clients to suicide. Thus, death is not funny to me. Anybody’s.

  3. I’m inclined to agree with your conditional statement, that “virtually all practical jokes are per se unethical.”

    Practical jokes usually involve dishonest conduct or communications, and are discourteous, thereby breaching the Virtues, Values and Duties cited in the sidebar here. They turn the victim’s empathy into a weakness to be played for laughs. Not good at all.

  4. I’ve been imagining you and your sister one-upping each other in ways to scare the eyeballs out of each of you. And YOU scream like a girl, too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.