Ronald Jackson has been found not guilty of property theft after confiscating a phone from his teenage daughter and refusing to return it. Photo: CBS-DFW
She was 12 and, her mother said, she was not fitting in with her father’s new family. She grabbed her camouflage-patterned iPhone 4s and shot a text to a friend – roughly: “I don’t like his ratchet girlfriend or her kids.”
It was 2013. That word – “ratchet” – was running through rap songs and teens’ text messages, thought to mean a low-class and clueless diva. When Ronald Jackson saw it, he took away his daughter’s cellphone.
“I was being a parent,” Mr Jackson told broadcaster CBS-DFW. “A child does something wrong, you teach them what’s right.”
Mr Jackson, 36, from Dallas, Texas, was ultimately arrested and charged with property theft, because he had taken his daughter’s iPhone and refused to give it back.
Following a long legal battle, a Dallas County Criminal Court judge last week ruled the state did not have enough evidence to continue the case and ordered a jury to find him not guilty.
It was Mr Jackson’s visitation time that Saturday in late September 2013. He and his former partner, Michelle Steppe, were no longer a couple but shared custody of their daughter. Both had started new families.
The mobile phone at the centre of the court case.
The mobile phone at the centre of the court case. Photo: CBS-DFW
Ms Steppe, 40, and her fiance bought the phone for her daughter, but it was on Mr Jackson’s mobile data plan.
After Mr Jackson confiscated the mobile phone, the girl went to a friend’s house and called her mother. Police were sent to Mr Jackson’s home and tried to get it back, according to television station WFAA.
“At that point,” Mr Jackson said, “I decided the police don’t interfere with my ability to parent my daughter.”
Ms Steppe said she respected Mr Jackson’s parenting moment, but he should have given her the phone.
“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,” Ms Steppe told The Post. “Parents have the right to discipline their kids. I’ve taken away phone privileges.
“It had to do with giving back property that did not belong to him.”
When Ms Steppe collected her daughter, she demanded the phone, according to court documents. When Mr Jackson declined to hand it over, Ms Steppe sent him a demand letter.
Months went by. Then, Mr Jackson was mailed a citation for petty theft, a Class C misdemeanour.
Court documents show the city attorney’s office offered him a plea deal in exchange for the phone, according to WFAA. But Mr Jackson got a lawyer and opted for a trial in municipal court, according to the news station.
Court documents state the case was first filed with the city court, but that “due to the lack of co-operation by the defendant”, the prosecutor in the case asked that police file it as a harsher Class B misdemeanour in a county court.
Late one night in April 2015, Mr Jackson was woken by police, placed in handcuffs and taken to jail.
“Why would you arrest someone for something like that?” he told CBS-DFW. “Don’t you have better things to do as a police officer? Aren’t there bigger crimes in the city that you need to take care of?”
Grand Prairie police spokesman Lyle Gensler said police tried to get Mr Jackson to return his daughter’s phone.
“We do not like these kinds of instances to go into the criminal justice system,” he told WFAA. “We prefer to keep it out and the phone be returned and let the parents, the two adults, let them work it out among themselves.”
One concern Mr Jackson had was that Ms Steppe’s fiance is an officer on the police force.
“In the entire investigation, that never came into play,” Mr Gensler said.
Ms Steppe said the relationship between her daughter, now 15, and the girl’s father was ruined.
“She wrote him a letter and knocked on the door and handed it to him,” Ms Steppe said.
“In the letter, she listed the Webster’s definition of a father and said, ‘You have never been any of these things to me.’ She asked him to relinquish his parental rights so she could be adopted by her stepdad.”
Ms Steppe said Mr Jackson had asked to relinquish his rights and that case was pending.
During Mr Jackson’s two-day trial last week, his daughter took the stand.
“She’s heartbroken, she’s devastated,” Ms Steppe said.
“Don’t smear her. Don’t make her look like a sexting teen, an out-of-control teen. Don’t mess with her life.”
Mr Jackson’s attorney, Cameron Gray, said he was planning to file a federal civil rights claim against the Grand Prairie Police Department and the city attorney’s office over the way Mr Jackson was treated.