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Pasco sheriff doesn't flinch in the face of national ridicule over 'hacking' story

Domanik Green, 14, a student at Paul R. Smith Middle School, was suspended for 10 days and charged with a third-degree felony after school officials say he used a teacher’s password to log into the network. [WTSP-TV 10 News]
Domanik Green, 14, a student at Paul R. Smith Middle School, was suspended for 10 days and charged with a third-degree felony after school officials say he used a teacher’s password to log into the network. [WTSP-TV 10 News]
Published Apr. 14, 2015

NEW PORT RICHEY — The Pasco County Sheriff's Office is taking a beating as the story of the boy who was arrested for accessing his school's secure computer network continues to race across the Internet.

Over a dozen bloggers and writers have derided the agency's decision last week to criminally charge eighth grader Domanik Green, 14, with a cyber crime. But Sheriff Chris Nocco is standing by the decision, saying he's only enforcing the law.

Green, a student at Paul R. Smith Middle School, was suspended for 10 days and charged with a third-degree felony after school officials say he used a teacher's password to log into the network. Green obtained the password by watching the teacher type it in. It was easy to remember, too — a six-letter name.

Once inside the network, Green remotely accessed his friends' computer screens and played with the onboard cameras. He got himself in trouble when he tried to place a pornographic image onto a teacher's desktop, then, after being blocked by the school's firewall, settled on one depicting two men kissing. The teacher told school administrators.

One of the computers Green accessed also had encrypted 2014 FCAT questions stored on it, though the sheriff and Pasco school officials said Green did not view or tamper with those files.

"Another devious, young techno-wiz was placed safely behind bars this past Wednesday," mocked Ashley Feinberg in a piece she wrote for gossip blog Gawker, cheekily comparing him to "a young Julian Assange," the man behind WikiLeaks.

"Remember when teenagers could pull a harmless prank on a teacher and not wind up being charged with a felony?" asked Joe Trotter in his column about the incident on the blog the Libertarian Republic ( tbtim.es/gnt).

It's likely Green will not stand trial and instead participate in some kind of pretrial intervention, deputies said last week. But that could still create legal bills for Green's family, Trotter pointed out.

"It just seems like such an overreaction," Trotter said by phone Tuesday. "The response wasn't proportional and it's an overreaction that might cost the kid down the road."

But Nocco is sticking to his guns. Green was suspended from school for three days for similar activity back in October, and the sheriff said it was obvious he hadn't learned his lesson.

"I think, unfortunately, when the story's being told in other (publications), they're not talking about the fact that he committed this crime previously," Nocco said Monday. "We enforce the law. And if we don't enforce the law, nobody else will."

Also, he said, the crime with which Green is charged is deemed a felony by the state Legislature. If people want to change it, they can write lawmakers, he said.

The state takes testing security seriously, and certain procedures have to be followed for possible security breaches. Teachers and administrators have been suspended and fired for breaking test protocol, intentionally and accidentally.

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School district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said when the school found out Green accessed a computer with the testing information, it was obligated to notify the district's testing office, which had to notify the state Department of Education. The school also notified its resource officer, who initiated the sheriff's investigation, Cobbe said.

"That makes it clear the school didn't just pick up the phone and dial 911," Cobbe said.

Grades and other student information were also accessible on the network, and Cobbe said she didn't know why the password hadn't been changed six months after Green was first caught.

"That's not a good look for the school," said Mic news director Matt Essert by phone Tuesday. Mic published a story about the case Monday (tbtim.es/goc). "Why are you guys keeping all of this information basically in plain sight?"

Since Green's arrest, IT administrators have changed the network password, according to Cobbe, and the district's employee relations department is investigating how Green was able to obtain it.

Cobbe also said superintendent Kurt Browning and principal Susan Seibert have fielded angry emails from people upset about the charge brought against Green. But, she said, it wasn't up to them.

"I certainly don't think their intent was to have him charged with a felony, but that's what law enforcement's job is," Cobbe said. "But the school district is not going to question the Sheriff's Office in determining the charges. That's their job."

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or jsolomon@tampabay.com. Follow @josh_solomon15

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