The Fake Shark Fin of Panic at the Amity Beach

The movie Jaws tells a tale of two brothers with a shark fin who scare the heck out of a lot of swimmers. Naturally, the younger one blames the older one after they are caught causing a panic at the beach.

The boys committed the crime of disorderly conduct. The law states that:

A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if, with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he: (a) engages in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior; or (b) makes unreasonable noise or offensively coarse utterance, gesture or display, or addresses abusive language to any person present; or (c) creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor”

Commonwealth v. Feigenbaum 404 Mass. 471, 474 (1989), citing Commonwealth v. A Juvenile, 368 Mass. 580, 587-597 (1975).

The boys acted with purpose to cause alarm with all the swimmers in the water that created a hazardous condition in the form of a panic as all the swimmers left the water. There was absolutely no legitimate purpose to their actions.

While Massachusetts law does not specifically address a panic with a mass evacuation, Oregon law has the following statute:

(A) No person shall cause the evacuation of any public place, or otherwise cause serious public inconvenience or alarm, by doing any of the following:

(1) Initiating or circulating a report or warning of an alleged or impending fire, explosion, crime, or other catastrophe, knowing that such report or warning is false;

(2) Threatening to commit any offense of violence;

(3) Committing any offense, with reckless disregard of the likelihood that its commission will cause serious public inconvenience or alarm.

ORC Ann. 2917.31.

The boys’ actions of entering a swim area with a shark fin could qualify as an “offense, with reckless disregard of the likelihood that its commission will cause serious public inconvenience or alarm.” Their plan was to scare people. This action caused “alarm” as people rushed out of the water. This action would violate the statute and would be a misdemeanor. ORC Ann. 2917.31(B)(2).

The boys would not be tried as adults, but there is no doubt the juvenile court would throw the book at the boys for causing a panic with a fake shark fin. Moreover, the parents could be sued civilly for their children’s conduct, which would likely put their home in jeopardy as the main funding source for damages.