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Laughs shouldn't come at taxpayers' expense

Posted: May 16, 2012 - 12:02am

Let’s start with a couple of definitions: A “prank” generally is a harmless practical joke. “Vandalism” causes physical damage.

What happened last week at Greenbrier High School was not a “senior prank,” even though it was committed by four of the school’s seniors. It was vandalism, pure and simple.

The price tag for that vandalism, which destroyed 43 locks on the school’s exterior doors when the teens squirted powerful glue into them: More than $5,100.

That’s no “prank.” That’s no joke. It’s called criminal damage to property in the second degree – a felony, which is how the less-than-fantastic four were charged.

Isn’t respect for others’ property supposed to be one of the fundamental lessons children are taught? Don’t they learn not to swipe crayons, and to not cheat off of other’s papers? Surely they don’t have to be told, specifically, “Don’t damage things that don’t belong to you”?

Or do they?

For anyone inclined to go soft with a boys-will-be-boys dismissal of these girls’ shenanigans, it’s important to remember that there is a perfect precedent.

It took place a year or two before these teens were born, and several years before Greenbrier High school was even built. But back in 1993, a similar group of students (all boys, in that case) decided it would be cute a week before graduation to vandalize Lakeside High School – including filling locks with glue.

Two vandals were caught red-handed by alert Columbia County deputies, who soon rounded up all eight participants. Six were Lakeside seniors. Passing off the activity as a mere “senior prank” didn’t work then, either; all were charged with second-degree criminal damage to property.

What’s more, the seniors weren’t allowed to march with their classmates during graduation. They weren’t allowed to pick up their diplomas until they repaid the expense of repairs and cleanup.

That seems like a perfectly fair response, and that’s exactly how the school system is handling these girls’ vandalism. Under no circumstances should taxpayers have to fork over a dime to pay for such juvenile behavior.

All four of the teens involved in this stunt seem like perfectly upstanding young ladies. A couple of them have had their names printed before in this newspaper for academic honors, or after having been voted by classmates to represent Greenbrier’s homecoming court. Yet how in the world did they manage to get to this stage in life without learning to respect other people’s property?

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Comments (38)

AugustBoy

Why

You certainly made clear the difference between a prank and vandalism. Too bad the girls did not get that lesson.
We really don't know them. Maybe they are sweet girls that had a huge lapse in judgement. Or were extremely naive. Could there have been a ring leader with the idea that influenced them. Or are they just mean girls. I guess we will never know.
I have a young child and I have noticed he learns so many negative things from the other kids at school. It's a never ending battle to teach him better.
I do have to say holding them accountable for the damage will be the best thing for them. I hope they get that lesson.

Riverman1

What If?

I have questions of whether it costs that much to fix the locks. What if a locksmith agrees to fix or replace them for $1,999, making it less than $500 damage for each girl? I wouldn't be surprised if many locksmiths wouldn't replace the locks and repair the old ones for resale for that amount. Of course, the school system and county now have no intention of lessening the damages below the felony mark.

Riverman1

I'd Like to See Locksmiths discuss the cost issue

It would be interesting if several locksmiths discussed how much they thought the damage was. Also, what happened to the old locks? That's pertinent information.

Little Lamb

Plea Deal

At 9:44, Riverman posted:

Of course, the school system and county now have no intention of lessening the damages below the felony mark.

This quote came from today's ACES editorial in the Chronicle:

“It will not look good” if the three have felony convictions on their record, Superintendent Charles Nagel said, adding, however, that plea deals can always lower a charge.

It looks like the felony charges were made just to scare the women straight. You can see that the school system will accept misdemeanor pleas if the girls appear contrite. The sheriff's spokesman has previously said the department will proceed however the school system wishes. It's almost like the school system and the sheriff's department are playing pranks of their own on these students.

soapy_725

It will go away......

Okay, the estimate of repairs was inflated. So what. They are not guilty by reason of faulty estimates. LOL Don't worry, the little darlings will be okay and they will have learned another example of how personal responsibility "sucks". Criminal records will disappear and life will go on in CC. We will build another "entertainment venue" and life will return to normal. The bad "illegals" were purged from our community never to return. Springlakes will not flood. Grovetown and Harlem will soon merge governments as developers erase the lines of city demarcation. We now know that "spice" arrests are difficult to adjudicate, so look out CC teens.

soapy_725

laughs at taxpayer' expense

Laughs at taxpayer' expense in CC or can we say "please there are not enough trees to facilitate the printing paper".

Riverman1

LL, The Problem Is:

If the school has reported the damages accurately as being over $5,000 I don't believe the charges can be reduced by the school or the Sheriff. The law is the law. Now if the school wants to say there is not $5,000 worth of damage since it was paid back or something, maybe. Again, what happened to the old locks? They had value.

Riverman1

The 1998 Episode

I suspect in the 1998 Lakeside incident of senior vandalism, the cost of the damage was more than the reported $375. Cameras were damaged along with the other noted charges. I suspect the cameras were fixed, paid for by someone and the crime determined to be a misdemeanor. Maybe the same thing could happen here, as LL suggests.

Barry Paschal

Damages

Riverman: In a case like this, the damage isn't divided among those responsible for purposes of determining misdemeanor or felony status. Thus, if the damage was, say, $800, it wouldn't be classified as a misdemeanor by dividing it among the four who were arrested for $200 each. Each, instead, would be charged based on the total $800. The amount is divided only when the court determines restitution, and even there the judge can hold some more responsible for repayment than others based on their level of involvement.

The locks, electronic touchpads and other damaged materials are being retained as evidence for prosecution. Don't you think the attorneys for the girls would have a field day if it were otherwise?

Little Lamb: The sheriff's office files charges based on the evidence at hand. Once they pass it off to prosecutors, they don't determine how the case moves forward, or whether the charges are reduced. A judge ultimately decides whether to allow such changes, and that's also the appropriate place for the defendant to express remorse, offer repayment and plead for a more-favorable outcome. I don't think anyone believes these girls will have any less access to judicial mercy than anyone else who goes to court, and probably will receive a good deal more considering the fact that they don't have criminal records.

Riverman1

A Legal Problem Surfacing

There was talk yesterday by electronic commentators that more kids had knowledge of the crime and will soon be charged. I suspect the problem is many, many more kids knew about the crime beforehand and didn't say anything as was also noted in these very comments under the article. Will these kids be charged too? Or will this thing now start to be downplayed because there would be no end to it all? Answer, they will now start to downplay it all.

Riverman1

Barry, understood

Barry, I get it about the total damages, but that could be an acceptable solution. It appears to me there is a question of the reported damages. I'm hearing locksmiths say they would have taken the old locks and put new ones in for far less.

Barry Paschal

I have no doubt...

I have no doubt that you could find any number of locksmiths who would SAY that they would charge less to replace these locks. Whether they would actually do so is an entirely different story. I'm more inclined to believe that if the school system were to hire a locksmith to do the job under contract, the damage expense would be far higher. Instead, they're using school system maintenance staff to do the work, which likely makes the overall damage cost less than it otherwise would be.

But let's say it's only half as much. Still a felony. Try one-TENTH as much. Nope, still a felony, still the same charge.

Dead-end exercise, in other words.

BTW: Just got word from a former staffer in Macon. Some kids just did the same thing to a school there - and they're estimating damage in the $10,000 range.

Riverman1

My point is it would be

My point is it would be viewed as a less serious event if the total damage were less, but you are absolutely right anything over $500 rings the felony bell.

How do you feel about others knowing the prank was going to take place and not coming forward?

Little Lamb

Exams

From the original story on May 14 we had the following statement:

In addition to their arrests, schools Superintendent Charles Nagle said the girls were suspended for the rest of the school year, which concludes Friday. However, Nagle said the girls will be allowed back into the school to take their final exams.

How about that. The four students were exempt from senior finals, but now they have to take them. I'll bet that really chaps the teachers who now have to prepare, proctor, and grade exams for just these four students. I wouldn't be surprised if the teachers had already turned the grades in before the prank. Now they'll have to re-calculate.

Riverman1

Another Question

If law enforcement, acting through Seagraves, asked if anyone had information about these felonies and those who knew didn't come forward, aren't they, in effect, withholding information from law enforcement?

Maybe we will just decide to go back to common sense in all this and tone EVERYTHING DOWN a bit since they are not about to lock up half the school for the felony of not reporting their knowledge of this crime.

Little Lamb

Right to remain silent

Riverman, I've already pointed out on another thread that no one has to answer questions of police. Our right to remain silent is precious. We need to avail ourselves of it more often.

Riverman1

LL, I might have missed that

You can certainly tell a policeman that you don't want to talk and want a lawyer or what have you if you are a suspect. But isn't it "Obstruction of Justice," or "Impeding a Police Investigation" if you withhold information about a felony?

Not too far from here in Anderson, SC a man was arrested for not coming to the police to report a murder he knew about although he wasn't involved.

If the school announced the CC Sheriff's Office was involved and wanted information, they were in fact saying the police want you to tell anything you know.

The radio NEWS keeps saying more arrests are imminent, but maybe they are out to lunch with all that, so who knows?

Austin Rhodes

The additional arrests...

...if they occur...and it may just be one...involve direct involvement, not peripheral knowledge. Given a few other developments of the day...this one would be quite an interesting twist.

Little Lamb

Arrest

People get arrested every day, and many of them get released because the arrests were bogus. How about telling us whether that guy in Anderson actually committed a crime by not reporting a murder.

Many, many crimes go unreported. It is not a crime not to report. Otherwise, we are all criminals. The world is our prison.

Little Lamb

Inconsistency

It's interesting that the exact same crime committed in Bibb County has not resulted in arrests:

81 School Doors Glued in Macon

The Columbia County students’ lawyers could use that story to argue malicious prosecution and get the charges dropped!

Riverman1

LL, I do understand what you

LL, I do understand what you mean. The Anderson man was arrested for the “Obstruction of Justice” and “Impeding a Police Investigation.” By the way I can’t find the story right now although I did last night. Heh.

I also understand “Misprison of felony” is sometimes used to arrest those who don’t come forward.

But remember in this case, many of the kids knew the felony was going to take place according to what some said. The police had asked the students if anyone knew anything about the crime as had Chris Seagraves.

Let me quote something from Wiki which I think explains it well: “To be convicted of an accessory charge, the accused must generally be proved to have had actual knowledge that a crime was going to be, or had been, committed. Furthermore, there must be proof that the accessory knew that his or her action, or inaction, was helping the criminals commit the crime, or evade detection, or escape.”

Do you think those kids who knew about the crime, but didn't come forward either before or after could be prosecuted under those conditions? It appears to me, it most certainly applies in this situation. Especially, if the police asked the students as a group if anyone had knowledge of the mischief.

Riverman1

Yet, another point

This subject is getting to be like Jason. It won't die. But I've thought about the move to make them take exams today as a punishment. That's short notice and could have a detrimental effect on their grades. If the school doesn't want them to walk at graduation and suspend them for the rest of their time at Greenbrier, I can accept that as the right of the principal.

However, to throw exams at students who have not been studying for them is an attack on their educational achievements in a way that speaks of revenge, not educating or disciplining. From what I've heard, these girls are good students and will probably do okay, but it was a petty move on the part of the school administration.

If somehow the suspension of senior privileges for them can justify they would have to take exams, they should have been given an adequate period of time to prepare. This wasn't right.

Riverman1

The Way Bibb County Handled It

The way Bibb County handled it reminds me of the Lakeside 1998 episode where they paid for the damage which was truly more than $375 and the kids were not even charged with a misdemeanor much less a felony. Plus, the kids continued to play sports and walked at graduation.

Little Lamb

Telegraph

Hey, RM. It is interesting to read the reader comments from the Macon Telegraph story about the senior locksmiths.

Bibb County Locks

Sean would probably ban some of the commenters.

:-)

Riverman1

LL, heh, don't get me started.

I saw that link you posted over there. It's not like I disintegrate when I go into Richmond Cty or read the Chronicle. They are not THAT powerful...although I do wonder at times. Heh.

Riverman1

Okay, LL, you're good at this..

You picked up on that quote from Nagle that the charges could be negotiated. Let's look at that issue. The schools are government owned. Crimes are crimes. Do school officials working for the public have the right to keep students from being arrested for crimes that are defined by law?

Whittle said he would do whatever the school administration wanted and if they wanted to press charges against the students he would go along with that. That implies he wouldn't if the school chose not to press charges. Are schools islands where the rule of law doesn't apply? From those comments it would appear so.

Of course I'm looking at this from a different perspective, if the schools do have that power, they also have the power to NOT charge kids even if they have committed crimes. You can't have it both ways. It appears in Macon the schools didn't press charges and law enforcement didn't get involved.

Little Lamb

Piling on

I was thinking about this back on Tuesday, but I didn't post it because I had no clarity of thought. I'll try today, but I warn everyone that I still do not have full clarity. Here goes —

When a school employee discovers something not right — maybe vandalism, maybe harmless prank, maybe sexual hijinks, maybe sexual assault, maybe horseplay, maybe bullying, maybe contraband, maybe intimidation, maybe theft (you get the picture) — that employee has to make some decisions. Of course, the employee must tell some superior, and the superior must make some decisions and take some actions. Someone has to decide how serious the infraction is using the school system's code of conduct or policy manual as a guide. Then a decision also has to be made as to whether the infraction might rise to the level of a crime or instead just remain “in house,” so to speak.

If the school system wants to keep it in house, they should impose school sanctions.

If the school system wants to call in law enforcement, then law enforcement has some decisions to make. To me, it becomes a little fuzzy when law enforcement throws the towel back to the school system, saying, “We'll arrest them if you press charges; otherwise we're dropping the matter.”

If the school system presses charges, it seems to me that the school system should back out and let the police do what police do, and the prosecutors do what prosecutors do.

But in the case of these vandals, we have the piling on phenomena — everyone wants to be seen as being as tough as he possibly can. The sheriff's office charged most of them with felonies. Then the school system piled on school sanctions: expulsion from classrooms, no participation in graduation ceremony, no diploma until restitution is paid, no exemption from final exams. And who knows what sanctions have been imposed that have not been revealed to the press?

Somehow, I think it ought to be one or the other — school system or judicial system — and not both.

Am I missing something?

Riverman1

Well, I suppose you could impose both, but

They could be punished by the school and the legal system, but the school should not have had any influence on what law enforcement or the DA do except by the reporting of the facts.

Stupid as this whole thing was, as in Macon, these kids didn't have an intent to cause thousands in damage. In this kind of matter where there is no intent, should they even be prosecuted for a felony? Does Nagle have the right to say either way? Whittle says he does. As you say, LL, what's a prank in Macon is a crime here. Something is amiss.

Now we have them facing felonies, plus the school taking extraordinary action by not giving them time to study for exams and making them take these tests that have a tremendous effect on their grades. It's not the norm to make kids take exams without study time. The education process has to be independent of this matter unless you are talking expulsion. The exams without study time need to be rethought, however, I think they are taking them today.

Riverman1

Why Not Blindfold Them for Exams?

I say we make them write with a pencil held in their teeth while blindfolded to take the exam. It makes about as much sense as testing them without time to prepare.

Little Lamb

Pop Final

Hey, Charles Nagle created a new category of test, the pop final! It might catch on.

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