A 24-year-old former library assistant at the fancy Riverdale Country School in the Bronx is suing the city and several police officers over a case of mistaken email identity that landed him in jail for 30 hours and left him publicly disgraced. The trouble started last year after William Hallowell sent a resignation email to Robin Bernsen, the head librarian at the school. She replied sympathetically, according to the Times, and Hallowell moved on with his life.
But when Bernsen tried to contact him again to request the return of a library key, she mistakenly emailed her request to someone who uses “Ben” Hallowell as an email address. And the response she got from Ben – who posed as William – was rather unsettling:
I want your sweet body against my skin! We could do it in the library. I could spank you with a vintage [copy] of Finigan's [sic] Wake… With the money I have received from pawning off the key I have bought myself a gun. I have spent many hours in quite [sic] contemplation wondering if I am meant for this twisted world.
After Bernsen called the police, the school was briefly locked down out of fear for students’ safety. But the real Hallowell knew nothing of it until the cops came to arrest him. He says the officers seemed completely ignorant of how email addresses work, and they charged him with harassment despite seeing his previous emails with Bernsen from his actual email account.
The charges were ultimately dropped last August for a “lack of evidence,” but his lawsuit accuses “officers of deliberately and maliciously ignoring a mountain of evidence.” Speaking to the Times, his lawyer points out that “this could happen to anybody if the police are going to have absolutely no competence when it comes to understanding email or the Internet.” It is still unknown who actually sent the offending email.