When we first reported on the story of a young woman in Kansas who was facing felony charges for making a “finger gun” in her middle school classroom, I called the idea of prosecuting her “idiotic.” Thankfully, it sounds like prosecutors in Johnson County came to their senses, because a hearing in the case was recently cancelled, and the District Attorney’s office says the girl is now in a diversion program.
While details of her diversion agreement were not public because of her age, most such contracts with the court “are very basic, and list only 8-10 conditions,“ the district attorney’s website says.
The contracts require that the juvenile not violate the law, attend school, obey parents, make amends with the victim, attend an education group and perform community service hours.
The girl’s mother and grandfather told The Star about the Sept. 18 incident: A boy in her eighth-grade class at the Shawnee Mission district 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.
School officials said they received several calls about the incident on a school tip line. The next day she was walked out of school, handcuffed and arrested by a school resource office employed by Overland Park Police. The resource officer is still with the department but no longer works at Westridge.
What made this case even more outrageous was the fact that two students who brought actual guns to another school in the same district were charged with misdemeanors, while the girl with the finger gun was arrested on a felony charge.
Thankfully, sanity (mostly) prevailed in her case, though I still think prosecutors should have dropped the case outright instead of just diverting her to what amounts to community service. It sounds like the girl and her family aren’t even going to be living in the county, which makes the diversion even more curious, but I suspect local prosecutors didn’t want to acknowledge the stupid mistake with a dismissal of the charge.
The girl’s mother, Vanessa McCaron, later told The Star that her daughter had been the victim of bullying for months by some of the classmates who provoked the incident.
She was picked on “to the point where one day she was found in the corner of the school lunchroom sobbing,” the mother said.
The girl has lived with her grandfather, Jon Cavanaugh, in California since she was arrested. Her parents had been in the process of moving the family to Norway and had already sold their home. She stayed behind in the U.S. to appear in court.
While this story might have concluded, until lawmakers in Kansas address the problem in the felony threatening statute that allowed for this tween to get hauled off in handcuffs for a finger gun, overzealous school administrators and even school resource officers could use the language of the law to punish other students for things that aren’t threats at all. If common sense can’t be used to avoid cases like this, then law simply has to change.