RICHMOND, Va. — A bill inspired by a fake kidnapping in Chesterfield County is trying to put a stop to social media hoaxes called in to police.
Caught on surveillance video in a Walmart parking lot off of the Midlothian Turnpike last May, a woman jumped out of the trunk of a vehicle and two men chased after her. Authorities in Chesterfield County were scrambling to locate a woman, to find out 24 hours later that it was all a hoax.
The woman and the men involved turned themselves in, police say. They had planned to film the faces of onlookers and intended to put it on social media.
It was all a joke.
A joke Sen. Amanda Chase (R-District 11) says wasn’t funny.
“We’re not going to allow our county resources to be tied up in those,” Sen. Chase said.
The first-term senator from Chesterfield County says she was approached by the county’s chief of police about the incident.
“There’s actually no laws that are currently on the books to address this issue,” Chase said.
Chesterfield police say the people involved with the incident were not charged.
Last year, we spoke with a legal expert who said the county could file a civil lawsuit against them for using up so many resources. The expert added that they could receive a disorderly conduct charge or a charge similar to providing false information to police.
Sen. Chase says that’s not enough to deter people.
“So we want to nip this in the bud, we want to be proactive,” she said.
SB1031, a piece of legislation Sen. Chase is sponsoring, would make a stunt like this a Class 1 Misdemeanor. So, anyone who gives false or misleading information about a crime could face a charge. If someone dies during an incident or is seriously injured, the charge is raised to a Class 4 felony.
The bill does not apply to a person “permitted, licensed, or otherwise authorized” to produce or create artistic or cinematic productions.
“[This ensures] that we are creating some type of penalty for those that would create some type of false or fake crime and try to use it on social media,” Sen. Chase added.
With SB1031, people charged with this crime would also have to pay back restitution to agencies that responded.
The legislation passed the Senate Thursday. It would still need to pass the House of Delegates to become a law.