Payson Police will seek criminal charges against 20 Payson High School students in connection with a weekend incident in which students superglued pennies to sidewalks and doors, deflated tires on school buses and painted "Class of 08" on the synthetic surface of the track.
Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores said most of the students will probably qualify for a diversion program that will prevent them from ending up with a felony conviction on their records, given that most of the honors students involved have never been in trouble before, and most turned themselves in.
Moreover, the school administration decided that only the 11 students who scaled a six-foot fence topped with barbed wire to get into the school bus storage area will be suspended through next week's graduation ceremonies.
School officials have not finished tallying the damage. The superglue used to attach pennies to the cement in front of the auditorium stained the concrete and the school may elect to jackhammer out the cement and replace it to get rid of the stain.
In addition, the school may have to replace a section of the track, since the paint used on the track surface soaked into the material. Damage estimates for the track at present stand at about $3,100.
The district also had to hire an outside company for about $1,600 to re-inflate the bus tires and pay school staff hours of overtime to prevent the vandalism of the buses from forcing the cancellation of school on Monday. If the high school had been forced to cancel classes, students would have had to attend a makeup day on a weekend to comply with state law.
She said reports that most of the students had turned themselves in and a letter of apology signed by many of the students and published in the Roundup "shows they're standing up and taking responsibility. That speaks well for young people who take responsibility for their actions."
"The bottom line is there's no making light that these kids' behavior was criminal. There are consequences for their actions -- unfortunately, they're going to learn that early," said Flores.
She said her office will review each case before deciding whether to prosecute each student or offer the diversion program, in which they pay restitution and a program fee and stay out of any further trouble for a set period. If they fulfill all the terms of the diversion program, they won't be convicted of a felony -- although the record of the charge itself would remain on the records of those students already older than 18.
District administrators had initially suspended all of the students involved for the same nine-day period, which would have prevented all 20 from participating in graduation. However, upon reflection Payson High School Principal Roy Sandoval decided to impose shorter suspensions on the nine students who glued pennies to the sidewalk and doors and painted slogans on windows. He left in place the nine-day suspensions against the 11 students who scaled the fence and removed the valve stems from the school buses and used spray paint on the track.
Sandoval declined comment on the action, citing district policy.
Superintendent Casey O'Brien issued a statement that said: "The District does not condone any of the "pranks" that were committed by Payson High School students. This is not a new policy. Pranks have never been condoned by the Payson High School administration, or the District. Having said this, it is accurate to say that there was a range in severity with respect to the incidents of misconduct. This is reflected in the number and degree of criminal charges and therefore, it is appropriate for the high school administration to consider a range of school consequences commensurate with the violation of school and district rules and policies. All students who have been found to have violated these rules and policies will face consequences.
"I support however, Mr. Sandoval's decision to impose a range of consequences based on the degree of misconduct. His decision to allow some students to participate in the graduation ceremony is founded on findings from a thorough investigation and a fair and consistent application of student discipline policies," said O'Brien.
Payson police said they had concluded the investigation with the decision to seek charges against 20 students. Most of the students face charges of aggravated criminal damage, in part because state law imposes extra penalties for vandalizing schools and churches.
In addition, six students face charges for "interfering with an educational institution," in connection with vandalizing the buses.
Eight students also face third degree burglary charges, also in connection with breaking into the signed and secured area where the buses were stored.
Finally, two students face only second degree criminal trespassing charges because they went onto campus after hours, without actually doing any damage. For instance, one of those students was arrested when she arrived on campus with a jar of pennies in response to a call from one of her friends only to find the police already on the scene.
Students said that about 33 students had originally assembled at Green Valley Park in response to text messages to launch the school prank late Sunday night. But about a dozen students changed their minds on their way to the school and about 20 students carried through with the plan. However, once they got onto campus the various groups split up -- and everything got out of control, according to student accounts.
Payson Police have requested the following charges:
Trevor Day, 18: Aggravated Criminal Damage, 3rd Degree Burglary, False Information to a Law Enforcement Officer, Interfering with Educational Facility
Daniel McGee, 19: Aggravated Criminal Damage, 3rd Degree Burglary, False Information to a Law Enforcement Officer, Interfering with Educational Facility
Monica Seville, 18: Aggravated Criminal Damage
Panda Stackhouse, 18: Aggravated Criminal Damage
Samantha Trujillo, 18: Trespassing 2nd Degree
Hannah Palandri, 18: Aggravated Criminal Damage, Burglary 3rd Degree, Interfering with Education Facility
Courtney Morris, 18: Aggravated Criminal Damage
Chelsey Copestick, 18: Aggravated Criminal Damage, Burglary 3rd Degree
Oshay Liken, 18: Aggravated Criminal Damage, Burglary 3rd Degree, Interfering with Educational Facility
Aaron Loeffler, 18: Aggravated Criminal Damage, Burglary 3rd Degree
David Hoff, 18: Criminal Trespass 2nd Degree
Christopher Durbin, 18: Criminal Trespass 2nd Degree
Danielle Levario, 18: Criminal Trespass 2nd Degree
Segan Cline, 18: Aggravated Criminal Damage
17-year-old female: Aggravated Criminal Damage
17-year-old female: Aggravated Criminal Damage
17-year-old female: Aggravated Criminal Damage, Burglary 3rd Degree, Interfering with Educational Facility
17-year-old male: Aggravated Criminal Damage, Burglary 3rd Degree, Interfering with Educational Facility
17-year-old male: Criminal Trespass 2nd Degree
15-year-old male: Aggravated Criminal Damage