Student Pays High Price For Careless Comment

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(The grandfather of the 12-year-old Rim Country Middle School student who is the subject of this story requested that his real name not be used. We have therefore given both the grandfather and the student fictitious names.)

Adam Davis is an A and B student and a good athlete who participates in several sports at Rim Country Middle School.

But the 12-year-old also has a police record, and Dan Davis, the grandfather who is raising him, is not happy about the way he got it.

Adam's troubles began Feb. 27, 2002, when he was a fifth-grader at Frontier Elementary School. According to a police report filed by then school resource officer Jason Hazelo, Adam told several of his classmates that he had a gun in his bookbag and would use it if he had to.

Nothing was said to their teacher at the time, but one of the girls told her mother later that evening. The mother called Sue Myers, then FES principal, who said she would deal with the issue first thing in the morning.

But after talking to Myers, the mother also called the police.

"The phone rang and it was the police," Myers said. "She had called the police, so it escalated before we had a chance to deal with it. She just panicked. Moms are like that."

Unaware of the problem, Adam's grandfather was stunned when a Payson police officer knocked on his door that morning and asked for Adam.

"I asked him what the problem was, and he told me that our grandson had threatened to shoot another student," Davis said. "I said, ‘I don't believe it' ... (but) I went directly to the school."

Confronted by Hazelo and Myers, a very frightened and contrite Adam admitted making the remark, but said it was made in the context of a rap song and that he didn't mean it. Myers suspended him for three days and made him visit all the classrooms at FES to tell his fellow students what he had done and what the consequences of such actions are.

Adam also wrote a letter of apology to Myers. In it, he wrote, "I should never have said that, even though I was joking and said so. I have learned from my punishment that I will never speak that way again."

Both Myers and Davis thought the matter had been dealt with sufficiently and that it would end there. But Adam had actually been arrested that day, and three months later, Davis found a summons on his door.

"The police department said they would be in touch if there was anything else, and nothing happened for months," Myers said. "And then suddenly (Adam) was in court."

Adam was placed on probation for a year and required to attend an anger management class. While he has now been released from probation and the ordeal is at long last over, Davis accuses both the police and the courts of gross overkill.

"We were sitting there in the court and here comes a kid 19 or 20 and he was in chains," Davis said. "Everything was in there at one time. It was like a bad scene from the New York slums. What the hell is going on here? These are kids."

Both Davis and Myers, who attended the court hearings on Adam's behalf, tried to argue that he had been sufficiently punished.

"I stood there (in court) and explained what had happened -- that he'd already been punished, and that this is double punishment," Davis said. "The judge just gave me a blank look."

Myers even wrote a letter on Adam's behalf, in which she wrote: "(Adam) has been an exemplary student during his years at FES. He is very intelligent. His homework is always in on time, and his attendance record has been excellent ... (Adam's) remark about a gun was thoughtless ... (but) the students questioned admitted that (Adam) said he was just kidding ... (Adam) has been punished. (Adam) has learned his lesson."

While Hazelo did not return phone calls, both police and probation officials defend the way the case was handled, citing the shootings at Columbine High School and other schools around the country.

"Contrary to (the grandfather's) view of this, what would have happened if the Payson Police Department hadn't investigated this case and charged it," Lt. Don Engler said. "A 10- or 11-year-old kid is perfectly capable of showing up with a gun at school as evidenced by any of the shootings across the country."

Sgt. Tom Tieman, Hazelo's supervisor, agrees.

"Basically we take action to the tolerance of the law," Tieman said. "If you make a threat like that, what the law says is what we're going to do. You take those things very serious, especially with what's happened at Columbine and places like that."

Dan McKeen, unit supervisor for juvenile probation in Gila County, says that while some young people can get caught in the system, it is inherently a fair system.

"I think one of the grandfather's complaints was that the juvenile probably received some consequence at home, received some consequences at school, and here he is -- maybe double or triple jeopardy -- receiving consequences through the courts," McKeen said. "But what we try to share with the parents is that they violated the rules at home -- your rules, they violated the rules at school, and then they broke the law, and that's why there's three arenas here where the kids can conceivably have consequences."

Davis replies that he can appreciate heightened concern following school shootings at Columbine and other places. But he believes well-intentioned counteraction can backfire.

Tieman admits what happened to Adam is unfortunate, but he says it's a necessary consequence of the times we live in -- even in a rural community like Payson.

"It's kind of a Catch-22," he said. "You take it serious and you take action and then you catch flak because you took action like you're supposed to, or you don't take it serious and you don't take action and you take flak because you didn't. You just can't say things like that in school anymore because of what's happened."

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