The 12-year old girl who was arrested on felony charges after making a “finger gun” and pointing it at her classmates and herself was in a Kansas courtroom today, and unfortunately she wasn’t given an apology from the local District Attorney’s office and sent on her way. Instead, prosecutors and the girl’s attorneys discussed placing the youth in a diversionary program that would allow her to avoid the felony charge if she completes the program and stays out of trouble.
Her mother, Vanessa McCaron, last week told The Star that a boy in her daughter’s eighth-grade class at Westridge Middle School had asked her, if you could kill five people in this class who would they be? The girl formed a gun with her fingers and pointed at four other students one at a time, and then turned the pretend weapon toward herself.
Officials learned of the Sept. 18 incident through the school’s bully reporting tip line, police said.
She was arrested and charged with felony threatening. Police said she was led out of the school by Principal Jeremy McDonnell. School resource officer Dana Harrison, who is an employee of the police department, handcuffed her outside the building and placed her in a police car before she was driven to a juvenile detention facility.
There was no actual threat here, just a dumb question and a dumb answer from a couple of middle school kids. It’s ridiculous that this led to an arrest in the first place. The fact that prosecutors haven’t dismissed the case outright is even worse.
Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez confirmed McCaron’s facts, but also said there’s more he could not disclose. He supports his officer’s decision to arrest the girl, saying schools need to be vigilant looking for signs of potential violence.
According to court documents, the girl “unlawfully and feloniously communicated a threat to commit violence, with the intent to place another, in fear, or with the intent to cause the evacuation, lock down or disruption in regular, ongoing activities …” or created just the risk of causing such fear.
Her mother told The Star that the girl had been bullied for months by some of the classmates who provoked the incident. One time she was punched in the face on a school bus; another time she was left sobbing in the lunchroom, her mother said.
I would love to know what important facts the chief says he can’t disclose, because they apparently haven’t shown up in any police report or court document so far. Did the girl demonstrate any actual intent to harm others? It doesn’t sound like it. I’m perfectly willing to admit we may be getting the girl’s side of the story more than the Overland Park Police Department’s side, but honestly this looks like a case of law enforcement not wanting to acknowledge a mistake more than anything else. The attitude seems to be “put her in a diversionary program so we don’t actually have to charge her with a felony, but we can still make it seem like the state needed to step in and rehabilitate the teenager” (who was 12 when she was arrested but has since turned 13).
The Kansas City Star continues to point out the other absurdity of this case in their coverage of today’s court hearing. While this young girl is facing a potential felony for pointing a finger gun, two middle school students in the same school district are only facing misdemeanors for bringing real firearms to school.
Last month two 13-year-old students at Shawnee Mission’s Hocker Grove Middle School showed up with real guns in their backpacks. Both were charged as juveniles in possession of a firearm, a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $2,500 or both.
The principal of Hocker Grove said there was no evidence suggesting the teens had planned to use the guns at school. Possession is a felony only if a kid commits the same crime a second time.
According to district policy, having a gun at school results in expulsion for up to 186 days, but it wasn’t clear how the two students were disciplined.
The discrepancy in punishment between making a finger gun at school and bringing an actual firearm to school needs to be addressed by the state legislature in Kansas. But the prosecutor in Johnson County doesn’t have to file charges or proceed with this felony case. Absent any additional and actual threat by the student, the prosecutor should use his discretion and drop this case. Justice would not be served by turning a 13-year old into a criminal because she said something dumb, as pretty much every 12-year old does.