Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The news report

Juvenile makes court appearance after lockdown
By Heidi Bell Gease, Journal staff

RAPID CITY -- The Central High School student arrested for lying to officials about seeing a man with a handgun at school has made his initial appearance before a 7th Circuit Court judge.

The 15-year-old boy, whose name is not being released because he is a juvenile, remains in custody, officials said during a Wednesday news conference.

And while the emotional ordeal of Tuesday’s school lockdown has ended for most students, the process has just begun for the boy and his parents.

Harry Brenden, assistant superintendent for elementary and secondary education for the Rapid City School District, said school officials will review the boy’s academic and disciplinary records before deciding what consequences he’ll face there. “The school will take sanctions,” he said. “I just don’t know what they will be.”

The most severe penalty would be one year’s expulsion, Brenden said.

Pennington County Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Kevin Krull said his office will file petitions charging the boy with false reporting and disturbance or disruption of school. The boy and his parents are cooperating with authorities, he said.

For an adult, the charges would be misdemeanors punishable by jail time and/or fines.

For a juvenile, it’s different. If the boy admits to the charges, the juvenile judge n currently Judge Thomas Trimble n will decide what his consequences should be. If the boy denies the allegations, Trimble will hear arguments in a hearing similar to a trial.

Krull said penalties could range from 90 days at the Juvenile Services Center to fines of up to $1,000 to probation to placing the boy with the state Department of Corrections, which could keep him until he turns 21.

Several people have suggested the case might lend itself well to a restorative justice approach. Restorative justice uses trained mediators to bring offenders and victims together to talk about how the offender’s actions affected others. The process lets victims and offenders see each other as individuals, supporters say, and often brings healing and understanding to situations that could otherwise stay mired in anger.

“I think it might have some merit,” said Dex Wittman, who runs the juvenile diversion program for the state’s attorney’s office. “There’s a lot of people who want to ask (him) some questions . . . Some of the kids were really afraid yesterday.”

Phyllis Boernke, director of the Center for Restorative Justice in Rapid City, said volunteer mediators just finished a case where the three juveniles arrested for vandalizing Rapid Valley schools last summer were brought together with school staff and administrators.

“That turned out very well,” she said. It took a long time to prepare for the meeting because they had to determine which victims would be involved. The mediation, which was held in January and took about three hours, eventually involved the three students, their parents, and more than a dozen school employees, including school administrators and custodial staff.

“It was a real turning point midway, when the young people began to share what was emotionally, personally going on with them, not only connected with this incident but personally in their lives,” Boernke said. She said the students talked about “feeling anger and frustration and just wanting to take it out somewhere.”

As a result, she said the adults involved in the mediation began thinking and talking about ways to help other youths in the same situation. “It turned out to be real positive.”

Mediation usually happens farther along in the process, after people’s emotions have leveled out. With juveniles, especially, mediators don’t want people “just dumping out anger” on the child, Boernke said.

“Throwing kids in detention all the time and never bringing any resolution is certainly not the answer,” Boernke said. “I would like to have the opportunity to visit with the child and his parents, to talk about some options, and then to find out how many people in the community might like to take part.”

Rapid City Police Chief Craig Tieszen said at Wednesday’s news conference that surveillance cameras at Central helped police as they began investigating the report of an armed gunman in the school. Detectives began to see inconsistencies in the boy’s story, he said, and by the time the last students were being evacuated from Central High School early Tuesday afternoon, the boy had admitted to making up the story.

The day wasn’t a total loss, Tieszen said. “We did have one huge joint exercise.”

Both he and Brenden said they were pleased with how smoothly things went as law enforcement and the school district implemented their emergency plan. This was the first time the district-wide emergency plan was called into action, Brenden said, adding that it exposed a few glitches administrators will now work to fix.

Tieszen praised the way law enforcement agencies, the fire department, school officials and even the media cooperated Tuesday in responding to the threat.

“I think our cooperative spirit showed itself yesterday,” he said.

Pennington County Chief Deputy Sheriff Dave Bramblee also commended the community at large for the way it reacted Tuesday.

“Today is really kind of a day of relief and celebration,” he said.

Contact Heidi Bell Gease at 394-8419 or heidi.bell@rapidcityjournal.com
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