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University of Florida backup quarterback Jalen Kitna gets bail after his child pornography arrest

Jalen Kitna wears a Gator uniform and gets ready to throw the football during warm-up before a game Oct. 2, 2022.
Phelan M. Ebenhack
/
AP
University of Florida backup quarterback Jalen Kitna warms up before an NCAA college football game against Eastern Washington on Oct. 2, 2022 in Gainesville, Fla. Kitna was arrested Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022 and charged with two counts of distribution of child exploitation material and three counts of possession of child pornography.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Wearing jail clothing for inmates on suicide watch, the Florida Gators backup quarterback made his first court appearance in court Thursday. A judge allowed him freed on an $80,000 bond in a case involving five felony counts of possessing and distributing child pornography online.

New details emerged Thursday about the criminal case against Jalen James Kitna, 19, of Burleson, Texas. It originated with a tip to police in June – months before the football season even started – about an internet account that police said they traced to Kitna and had shared two images of what police said depicted underage, pubescent girls in sexual positions.

It wasn’t immediately clear when UF administrators or coaches were first aware that Kitna was a target in a criminal investigation. Police arrested him Wednesday.

In court records, police said Kitna told them he had visited online chat rooms where child sexual abuse material was discussed and solicited, “but that he tries to shy away from it.” He told police he was struggling with controlling his interests in child pornography and incest-related images. He said he prefers pornographic images close to his own age.

“He later clarified and advised that he doesn’t prefer anyone younger than 16,” police said. Police asked Kitna how he downloaded child pornography, and “he advised he might have accidentally clicked on a link he shouldn’t have,” court records said.

Kitna spent Wednesday night in the Alachua County Jail – just days after making a brief appearance on the football field when starter Anthony Richardson was injured in Florida’s final game of a disappointing season, a loss to Florida State.

Disregarding his lawyer’s request to allow Kitna free without any bond, Alachua County Court Judge Meshon T. Rawls set Kitna’s bail at $80,000 and ordered the player not to use the internet and have no unsupervised contact with minors. If he were convicted on all charges, Kitna faces up to 45 years in prison and $35,000 in fines.

Kitna’s parents – including former NFL quarterback Jon Kitna – and pastor sat quietly in the courtroom. Appearing by video from the jail across town, Kitna was wearing a dark-green gown that officials said signifies an inmate was on suicide watch, not the county jail’s traditional green jumpsuit.

“We’re talking about a crime that can be done with two clicks of a mouse,” said Kitna’s lawyer, Caleb Kenyon.

Court documents described other images in the case that were far more sexually graphic and included a warning that the teens in them were so young that they were stamped “junior.” It wasn’t clear whether police knew the identities of the girls.

The court records also included chat transcripts that police said reflected Kitna and another, unidentified internet user discussing pornographic images. At one point, one of them asked, “Are they under 18,” followed by “Bruh” and “Noooo.”

A decision by the State Attorney’s Office whether to formally file criminal charges – and which charges – against Kitna was expected in coming weeks. Kitna was arrested Wednesday on preliminary charges based on a police affidavit describing their investigation so far.

In court, Kenyon had urged the judge to release Kitna because he said no one was directly victimized by Kitna’s alleged conduct. Bond amounts usually run between $10,000 and $20,000 per charge in such cases, according to a survey of the same specific criminal charges in the county. That put Kitna’s $80,000 bond within that range.

On video, Kitna kept his head down for most of the hearing as four officers accompanied him in what appeared to be a jail holding room. He straightened when his parents testified in court. He appeared to wipe his eyes and lowered his head again after they spoke.

His parents, Jon and Jennifer Kitna, testified they would bring their son back to their Texas home and accompany him to any future court dates. They held hands throughout the 80-minute hearing.

The defense lawyer said Kitna had about $5,500 and lost unspecified income when the team suspended him this week. He did not address whether Kitna’s famous father, who played 15 seasons in the NFL, would be expected to help financially with any bond. Defendants and their families who work with local bondsmen generally pay 10% of any bond and risk losing it if they fail to appear for future court hearings.

Court officials recommended that the judge prohibit Kitna from contacting minors or using computers or the internet. His lawyer said the player would need internet access to maintain his studies before final exams, which start next week.

The Gators said Wednesday they suspended Kitna from the team indefinitely. In a statement, the team said it was “shocked and saddened” over the case, adding that it had zero tolerance for such behavior.

Kitna was arrested Wednesday morning at his off-campus apartment complex in what witnesses said was a flurry of police activity. About eight police cruisers arrived suddenly in the parking lot about 7:40 a.m. and presented Kitna with a search warrant, said witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity. Kitna was led away after about 30 minutes, and he was formally booked into the jail about 3:20 p.m.

Police said they seized Kitna’s iPhone and discovered three more images they described as depicting child sexual abuse. Court records said Kitna gave police the password to his iPhone, and the images had been downloaded to the phone in December 2021.

Under Florida law, possessing at least three such images is considered “prima facia” evidence – meaning a judge would accept it as correct until proved otherwise – of intent to promote child pornography.

Police said Kitna acknowledging sharing two pornographic images he said he believed were legal over Discord, a social media service popular among gamers that allows users to talk, chat and share media files. That apparently led to an automatic red alert that resulted in a report to law enforcement.

Like other social media platforms, Discord said its service automatically scans all images shared among its users and comparestheir characteristics against a comprehensive database of known child pornography. The system, known as PhotoDNA, alerts Discord’s trust and safety team to investigate. Confirmed cases are forwarded to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which notifies local law enforcement agencies.

Gainesville police said in a statement it received a tip from the center, and Det. Donna Montague traced the online activity over Discord to Kitna’s apartment, which he shares with other players. Police said in a statement the Discord account was probably Kitna’s.

It took more than 24 hours after Kitna’s arrest for many details about the criminal investigation to emerge. In an unusual move, the sheriff’s office – which operates the county’s jail – declined Wednesday to share with journalists the underlying booking paperwork that it routinely provides in other cases. The booking records were made available before noon Thursday.

Sheriff’s officials took extra time to review the paperwork before releasing it publicly to censor sensitive details in the case because of the football player’s high profile and the nature of the charges, said a spokeswoman, Capt. Kaley Behl.

“They wanted an extra level of review,” Behl said. She said the booking records included details about the online sites where Kitna visited and other information that could be withheld under Florida’s public records law because it might interfere with the investigation. “They have the right to do that,” she said.

Kitna is studying advertising in the public relations department of UF’s College of Journalism and Communications.

Kitna, whose father played for the Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys, played limited amounts in four games this season. He was expected to take a larger role on the team, depending on whether Richardson were drafted into the NFL before next season. He completed 10 of his 14 passes for 181 yards and rushed one time for six yards this season.

Reporter Fareeha Haque Abrar contributed to this reporting.

This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at juliacoin@freshtakeflorida.com. You can donate to support our students here.

A news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.