Student charged in beeper incident Devices are illegal on school grounds

September 22, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

They're hip, they're slim, and with them you'll never miss a call.

But beepers, as Westminster High School senior Anthony L. Beacham has found out, are also illegal for students to have on public school grounds.

Mr. Beacham, 18, is expected to go on trial today in Carroll District Court because he was charged as the owner of a beeper another student was carrying at school May 4.

Under state law, Mr. Beacham -- who, his attorney says, has been an exemplary student and has no criminal record -- could be fined $2,500 or sent to the county jail for six months if he is found guilty of the misdemeanor charge.

Often associated with the drug culture, beepers -- slim devices attached to a belt that alert you to an incoming telephone call -- are becoming the latest fashion accouterment on the high school scene.

Industry officials say more than 14 million people use beepers, and an increasing number of them are high school students.

But since 1989, Maryland has outlawed their possession by students on school grounds.

"When this law was passed, in the more metropolitan counties, the students carrying beepers were using them so they could be contacted by people both on and off campus to sell contraband," said Peter B. McDowell, Carroll's director of secondary schools.

The beeper ban has exceptions -- adult visitors, law enforcement officials, principals, teachers, staff, handicapped students and student members of volunteer fire companies.

While the law was designed to take a bite out of business for young drug dealers dependent on keeping abreast of phone orders while in class, not all teens using the devices are in the drug trade, officials acknowledge.

Even so, banning beepers is not an infringement of students' civil rights, said Stuart Comstock-Gay, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

"I remember when this thing was passed, we didn't raise a stink then because this is not an issue with a freedom of expression element," Mr. Comstock-Gay said yesterday. "A beeper is not something you need for school, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with a beeper, there is nothing unconstitutional from banning its use in the public school."

Mr. McDowell said students are warned in their student handbooks that carrying beepers is against the law and could result in a five-day suspension from school in addition to the criminal charge.

Mr. McDowell would not comment on Mr. Beacham's case, but he said any student arrested and charged with a crime on school property would automatically be suspended from school.

According to District Court records, state police Tfc. Gregory A. Cullison responded to Westminster High after an assistant principal found a student with a beeper. Trooper Cullison said the student -- unidentified in court records -- told him Mr. Beacham gave him the beeper.

According to the court records, the trooper then talked to Mr. Beacham, who said he gave the other student the beeper because he wanted to sell it for $20. Mr. Beacham was arrested and charged with the single misdemeanor count.

Officials would not say what action -- if any -- was taken against the unidentified student.

Mr. Beacham's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Judson K. Larrimore, declined to comment on the case, as did Assistant State's Attorney Christy McFaul.

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