A Really Bad Way to Become a Senator

On December 15, 2015, Ohio state senator Izaha Akins visited the town of Sycamore, about an hour and a half drive north of Columbus. He was there to give a speech to a government class at Mohawk High School. It was an opportunity which was set up weeks beforehand but, due to a last-minute scramble, seemed to just come together in the moment. Akins wasn’t the person the school originally hoped to book; at the time, they had reached out to state senator Dave Burke’s office, scheduling a time in January for him to address the class. But a few days before Akins’ lecture, Akins contacted the school with a change in plan.

Burke, Akins informed them, had resigned from the Senate citing illness, and would, therefore, be unable to make the January date. That was the bad news. The good news was that Akins was appointed to his seat and he was available to speak to the class. And Akins wasn’t just any replacement senator — he was the youngest state senator in Ohio’s history. Akins wasn’t available in January, though; he hoped the school could move up the date to December 15th. The school said yes.

Akins’ arrived at the school as you’d expect a state senator to do so. A driver brought him to the venue and two aides flanked him throughout his visit. His talk was, by and large, uneventful. The school district’s superintendent, Ken Ratliff, said that “[Akins’] presentation, although not ‘polished,’ was what one might expect from a young, inexperienced and newly appointed senator.” And the content of the talk was nothing out of the ordinary — Akins spoke mostly about the importance of being politically engaged and part of the political process. The teachers and students alike seemed to appreciate Akins’ talk.

There was only one problem. Akins’ story was a total lie. He wasn’t a state senator at all. And Senator Burke? He’s still in office. Akins was just some guy who wanted to pull a prank.

And he would have gotten away with it, too — if he had just made one more phone call.

Akins’ ruse happened without the knowledge of Senator Burke’s office — the school had no reason to contact Burke, whom they believed had resigned. And Akins didn’t think to tie up loose ends — he could have called Burke, purporting to be a school administrator, and told him that due to unforeseen circumstances, the lecture would need to be rescheduled (and then simply not reschedule it). But as none of that happened. Instead, Burke arrived at Mohawk High on January 14, 2016, as planned. And that’s when school officials realized that they had made a huge mistake.

Embarrassed, the school contacted law enforcement. It turns out that Ohio has a law which makes it a felony to impersonate “peace officers,” and pretending to be a state senator is something which violates that law. Akins claimed that the ruse was an attempt to show how weak school security is in Ohio’s rural high schools, but it’s questionable whether that was the case going into the prank, or whether it was something he concocted afterward to help defend himself. Regardless, Akins pled guilty and was ultimately sentenced to three months in jail.

Bonus fact: The impersonation above seems like a harmless prank, despite the jail sentence the impersonator ended up receiving. The same couldn’t be said for a case of impersonation in 1990. A Missouri chapter of the KKK, according to the New York Times, was “playing racist telephone recordings that imitate[d] the children’s television program Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood.” The message “circulated among elementary and middle school students” as part of an apparent effort to recruit new Klan members. Mr. Rogers sued, asking the court to enjoin the Klan from continuing with the practice. Mr. Rogers won.

From the Archives: Joining the Force: The 14-year-old police officer who wasn’t.