Pasco teen arrested after camping selfie with gun ends up online. His parents are suing

Pasco parents are suing after their son was arrested at Chiawana High School and held for 24 hours over a selfie showing the teen holding a gun on a camping trip.

The lawsuit filed in Eastern Washington U.S. District Court names the Pasco Police Department, the city of Pasco and the Pasco School District along with several school and police employees.

It says the parents are asking for more than $1.5 million.

Pasco officials deny most of the parents’ account of what happened and that the 14-year-old’s rights were violated, but have not given their account of what led to his arrest, according to information filed in federal court.

Jon and Sheila Hudnall say their son, who is not named in the lawsuit, had a 3.6 grade-point average, was an athlete and had no history of disciplinary action before his arrest.

He went on a camping trip with his father, some other adults and another child on the Tucannon River in June 2021. The teen was staying in a tent with his father and another adult when he used his cellphone to take a photo of himself holding the gun.

After the camping trip he sent the selfie to four friends using Snapchat, Instagram or a text message, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court.

Six months later, three school resource officers came into a Chiawana classroom and told the teen to come into the hallway, where he was patted down, according to the lawsuit.

In the school resource office, Curtis King, a Pasco Police school resource officer, showed the teen the photo of him holding a gun posted on the “CH_Hotties1” Instagram page, according to the lawsuit. It was captioned “go out with me or die.”

The teen told King the name of the student he thought owned that Instagram page. That student was not one of the friends he had originally sent the selfie to, he said.

The student who apparently owned the account had approached the teen a couple days before and showed him the selfie with the gun. Their teen said he walked away without responding, according to court documents.

Officer King ordered the teen in the selfie to hand over his phone to be searched, says the lawsuit. The student initially refused, but was told he had to unlock it and hand it over, which he did, according to suit.

The lawsuit says King then made several phone calls to people not identified in the lawsuit, saying the student was a threat to the school and that even if he didn’t post the photo and caption on Instagram that King allegedly said he “wanted” him to go to jail, says the lawsuit.

King later told Sheila Hudnall that his sergeant directed him to arrest her son.

School resource officers also showed the teen a short video made by one of his four friends who he had sent the selfie. According to the lawsuit it had “a silly picture, the camping picture and four memes.” The teen maintained he didn’t ask his friend to make the video.

The lawsuit claims King did not read the teen his rights until after he was questioned and checked the phone.

King asked both the teen and the boy believed to own the Instagram account to write statements about what happened.

That student said the Hudnalls’ son did not post the photo nor write the caption. The student called the post “an accident gone wrong,” according to the lawsuit

The Hudnalls met the same day with two Chiawana High administrators who told them an emergency expulsion of their son was planned, according to the lawsuit.

Chiawana student arrested

Their son was arrested that afternoon and escorted off school grounds in a police car, according to the lawsuit.

He was booked into the Benton County Juvenile Justice Center on suspicion of threats to kill, a felony. He was held overnight until bail was set at $1,000 and posted by his parents.

Ten months later in October 2022 the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office formally decided not to file charges.

His parents said that since his arrest the teen has suffered from fear, anxiety, depression and humiliation. His grades have dropped significantly in multiple classes, and his phone also has not been returned.

The student was wrongly interrogated without being advised of his rights or given access to an attorney and had his phone seized without a warrant, the lawsuit alleges.

It says that expelling the student was extreme, egregious and outrageous given his lack of a disciplinary history and lack of reasonable suspicion to support the arrest.

U.S. Judge Thomas Rice granted a motion in April to dismiss much of the lawsuit claims against the Pasco School District defendants, finding legal issues in the original complaint.

However, he allowed the parents to file an amended complaint this month naming the Pasco School District, Chiawana High School and two assistant principals in 2022 — Tony Rubalcava and Bryan Meredith.

The Pasco School District responded in a court document, denying that it had done anything unlawful. It disputed that the student’s rights were violated or that expelling him was extreme.

The family is asking for damages both punitive and also to cover past and future medical expenses, counseling costs, loss of earnings, pain and suffering, plus interest and attorney fees.