If being a nuisance were a crime, Charles Ross would be a serial offender. Instead, Ross, who goes by “RossCreations” on YouTube, is facing the latest in a series of charges he racked up while filming “prank” videos.
Ross, 25, has more than 2 million followers across his two channels, RossCreations and Vlog Creations. There he uploads prank videos ranging from the innocuous (trying to sell lemonade on the highway) to those that verge on assault (giving strangers wedgies or unexpectedly kissing them). But YouTube’s prank scene is competitive, with creators pulling more outlandish stunts in a bid for coveted clicks. And police weren’t laughing when Ross allegedly impersonated an officer and pretended to write a ticket for a woman walking with her two young children.
On April Fool’s Day, the Sarasota, Florida Youtuber allegedly dressed as a police officer and approached a woman who was carrying her two children from the parking lot of a local restaurant.
According to a police affidavit, Ross threatened to write the woman a parking ticket. When the woman realized her car was legally parked, she allegedly questioned his credentials and feared for her safety, she told police. The woman said Ross became verbally aggressive with her. When she threatened to call the real police, Ross drove off. (People threaten to call police on Ross regularly. He sells a T-shirt that reads “I’m gonna call the cops” on his website.)
“Your adolescent behavior is becoming old. It’s tying up our resources. It’s costing money. It’s costing the criminal justice system money to take care of these things,” Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight said in a press conference last week.
Police charged him with a felony count of impersonating a police officer, which is punishable by up to five years in prison. He was arrested and jailed before being released on a $10,000 bond, the Miami Herald reported.
And after years of ill-conceived pranks in his Florida hometown, law enforcement is getting sick of his schtick. In a 2017 interview with Tosh.0, Ross described himself as having “I think like five or six” arrests stemming from stunts he filmed.
At the time, those bookings included a battery case for giving wedgies (he served three months’ probation), disorderly conduct for jumping over cops at a picnic table (he paid a fine and did community service), and stealing stop signs (the charges were dismissed after he completed community service).
For some YouTubers, however, an arrest can be a viewership blessing. An entire genre of video-makers called “First Amendment Auditors” film themselves in verbal confrontations with police, which often lead to their arrest and, if they’re lucky, a viral video.
Like Ross’s videos, the auditor scene thrives on a competitive YouTube culture, where only the most audacious creators make it big, and obnoxious pranks sometimes have the biggest payoff. Some of those stunts, like a YouTuber who faked an active shooter situation at Disney World, and a YouTube livestreamer who faked a bomb threat on air, aren’t funny by any stretch of the imagination.
In his 2017 Tosh.0 interview, Ross tried to define the line between good-natured trolling and outright harassment.
"Prank is something absurd, and there needs to be a victim, but it can't too absurd where when you reveal the prank, they're still angry at you,” he said.
Some on his past “pranks” like kissing a stranger on the lips while she slept on a beach, or stepping on a stranger’s stomach while dressed as Lego, might leave the subjects angry even after the “reveal.” And after Ross allegedly impersonated a police officer, cops aren’t having his punchline.
“It’s one thing to make a scene in an attempt to become famous on YouTube but it’s another to put people on edge by pretending to be an officer of the law,” Sheriff Knight said.