When Ronald Jackson found a text he thought was rude and inappropriate on his then-12-year-old daughter’s phone in September 2013, he took the cell away. But the child’s mother, Michelle Steppe, balked at his action — and she called the police.
Steppe and Jackson have not been a couple for years, and Steppe is now married to a Grand Prairie, Texas, police officer. When the police showed up at Jackson’s door later that day and asked for the iPhone 4 back, Jackson refused. “At that point I decided the police don’t interfere with my ability to parent my daughter,” he told KHOU 11 News on Wednesday.
The cellphone in question. (Photo: KHOU)
But Steppe insisted that the phone belonged to her, and three months after Jackson refused to return it, he got a citation in the mail for theft of property. He was offered a plea deal in January 2014 if he would return the phone. Instead, Jackson hired an attorney and requested a jury trial.
The case moved to Dallas County and, unbeknownst to Jackson, a warrant was issued for his arrest. The police showed up at his door around 2 a.m. in April 2015, and Jackson was handcuffed and taken to jail.
“It made no sense to me for them to show up and make a big deal out of something that was a small thing,” Jackson said. “I couldn’t believe they would go to this extent for a cellphone. It didn’t seem right.” He posted $1,500 bail and was released after a night in jail.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Cameron Gray, Jackson’s defense attorney, told KHOU Wednesday. “You would think we were on the Jerry Springer Show.”
After just a two-day trial — in which Jackson’s daughter, now 15, testified — Dallas County Criminal Court Judge Lisa Green ordered the jury to find Jackson not guilty, citing insufficient evidence to prove a theft charge. Steppe disagrees with the verdict. “Even if you purchase something with your own money and have a receipt, it’s not yours,” she said. “Someone can take it from you.”
Although Jackson won the case and is allowed to keep the phone, he said he has had to separate himself from Steppe and his daughter because of this incident. “I can’t ever have a relationship with them again,” he said.
On KHOU’s Facebook page, most commenters have been supportive of Jackson’s disciplinary action. One person wrote, “Good job dad. Inappropriate text are definitely a reason to lose the phone.” Another lamented the big-picture consequences: “The poor girl just lost her relationship with her dad because her mom was being petty.”
Still another commenter wished both parents had acted differently, posting, “In my eyes both of them have growing up to do,” and suggesting that Jackson’s punishment hold for his home but not the mother’s. “It’s called co-parenting for a reason people!”
Top photo: Ronald Jackson and his attorney, Cameron Gray. (KHOU)