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Dad who confiscated daughter's iPhone acquitted on theft charge

Technically Incorrect: A Texas father appears in court for taking away his 12-year-old's phone. He says he was merely trying to discipline her.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Ronald Jackson still has his daughter's phone.

WFAA screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Modern parenting requires all the skills of a lawyer, a psychologist and spy.

Few, therefore, are qualified.

It's rare, though, for a father to be taken to court because he took away his daughter's cell phone. No, she wasn't 18. She was 12.

This all happened in 2013, but the case was heard last week in a Texas court.

Police said Ronald Jackson of Grand Prairie, Texas, didn't like certain texts he found on his daughter's iPhone 4. So, to teach her a lesson, he took it away from her.

This is a fairly typical parenting tactic.

What is less typical is what happened a few hours later. Members of the Grand Prairie Police Department arrived at Jackson's house and demanded he give back the phone.

"She could prove it was hers. He openly admitted he took it," Grand Prairie Police Department spokesman Lyle Gensler told me.

"At that point, I decided the police don't interfere with my ability to parent my daughter," Jackson told WFAA-TV.

Still, three months later he received a citation for class C misdemeanor theft, the designation for property less than $50 in value.

Some might wonder why the police arrived so quickly. They might also wonder whether it was due to the fact that the mother of Jackson's daughter -- Michelle Steppe -- is married to a member of the Grand Prairie Police Department.

She and Jackson share a daughter, but were not together as a couple. She told the court that she owned the phone and paid the bills on it. However, the Washington Post reports that the phone was on Jackson's plan.

The matter rumbled on, until Jackson was arrested in April of last year on a slightly more serious class B misdemeanor theft charge. He demanded his day in court.

Neither side was willing to back down. In last week's two-day court hearing, Jackson's daughter and Steppe testified for the prosecution. The judge, though, didn't seem impressed.

Dallas County Criminal Court Judge Lisa Green told the jury that the state hadn't provided enough evidence that a theft had taken place. Jackson was therefore found not guilty.

For its part, the police department wishes the case wouldn't have gone this far. "We spent an enormous amount of time to try to get the phone back," Gensler said.

He said Jackson wouldn't budge. "He simply said no," Gensler said, adding that the department tried to keep the case out of the court system. Police were surprised the higher court took the case when the city court couldn't resolve it.

Clearly, the case had particularly personal overtones. However, Steppe told the Post: "I stand behind him taking the phone for punishment. I don't stand behind him not returning the phone to me when the visit was over."

Phones have become something of centerpiece of both parenting and education.

As kids (and, let's face it, everyone) have become more obsessed with their phones, parents and teachers have wondered what to do. Last year, for example, a Philadelphia school principal confiscated a student's iPhone 6 and explained forcefully to the student's father why she wouldn't give it back.

Parents have tried all sorts of tactics to teach kids lessons about technology. Perhaps the most famous was the dad who shot up his daughter's laptop after he didn't like her Facebook posts.

For Jackson, however, this hasn't ended. Not only does he say, according to WFAA, that he won't have anything more to do with his daughter and her mother, he's also considering taking civil rights action against the police and the attorney's office. The police say they're used to such threats.

As to what the police wish they had done differently, Gensler said: "Maybe we should have sat them [Jackson and Steppe] down together. Maybe we should have let both of them understand the consequences."

He added that the department hopes it never sees such a case again.

Jackson still has the phone. But it's an iPhone 4. What can he possibly need it for? Sometimes, family disputes go far too far. No wonder kids find solace in their phones.