Pokémon GO video game drama ties up Boyle courts

Published 5:55 pm Monday, January 21, 2019

New Boyle County Attorney Chris Herron got some laughs at the first fiscal court meeting of the year when he told magistrates one of the problems he’s dealing with is the augmented reality video game Pokémon GO.

But a problem that “migh t sound a little silly” by Herron’s own admission has crossed into some serious territory. An ongoing dispute between rival players has involved real-world protective court orders, criminal complaints and the sex offender registry.

Pokémon GO is a smartphone app that uses GPS to allow players to locate, capture and train virtual creatures, which appear as if they are in the player’s real location on the smartphone screen. Central areas of play within the game are referred to as “gyms.” Players can pay real money to buy in-game currency called PokéCoins, costing up to $99.99 a pop. The coins are used to purchase Pokéballs, the item players need to be able to catch Pokémon creatures.

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“It’s become a problem. Some of these people (playing the game) are sex offenders,” Herron told Boyle County magistrates. “I don’t know what we can do, but I really want to remove Constitution Square from the Pokémon register.”

Constitution Square is a hotbed of Pokémon GO activity, thanks to the presence of a gym and multiple “Pokéstops,” locations where players can earn items. Gyms and Pokéstops are often located at historic markers and important landmarks.

Herron said Friday he has reached out to the Pokémon company, asking that it remove its locations from the downtown Danville park.

“I told them who I am, that we need to remove it because of people filing IPOs (interpersonal protective orders), tying up the court system,” he said.

There have been about half a dozen complaints brought before Family Court Judge Bruce Petrie requesting protective orders, with two issued.

According to court records, the disagreement began when two men were fighting over the role of being a group “administrator” in the game. One claims he was kicked out and began his own gaming group, vowing to shut the first group down.

One man in the original group is a registered sex offender. The newly established group began circulating flyers, posting pictures of his home and other messages online. The sex offender then obtained an IPO after he successfully proved, according to court records, he and his children were being stalked. The man the protective order was enacted against was ordered to undergo a psychiatric and anger management assessment. He also began wearing a body camera after he was pulled back into court, accused of violating the IPO — a charge that was dismissed.

Pages upon pages of harassing messages and fighting between the two groups have been entered as evidence in the family court cases. Verbal altercations between the groups while playing the game happened while children were present, according to court records.

“It’s just getting ridiculous,” Herron said Friday.

During last week’s meeting, after Herron brought the issue up, Jennifer Kirchner — director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau — suggested the court could turn off the free wireless internet at the park.

“But that’s up to you,” Kirchner said. “A lot who come to the park do games and surf the web. Or you could limit the times it’s available.”