Boy, 12, with gun gets probation

Meade Middle pupil admits having weapon in pocket at school

Details of incident disputed

Expelled youth must do community service, visit hospital, jail

January 25, 2000|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A 12-year-old boy was placed on probation yesterday after he admitted he had a loaded handgun in his pocket in a Meade Middle School bathroom last month.

How the seventh-grader came to have the semiautomatic weapon remained in dispute, but in a deal, he conceded that prosecutors had evidence against him in the charge of possession of a handgun. The second charge, possessing a deadly weapon on school property, was dropped in the agreement.

Anne Arundel County Juvenile Master Cynthia M. Ferris released the boy to his parents with terms that include a requirement that he write a 1,500-word essay on the dangers of guns in the community, complete 250 hours of community service and visit the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore and the county jail. His lawyers had sought more leniency for him. Because of his age, the boy's name is not being published.

The brief hearing did not focus on what the child intended to do with the handgun or on the continuing police probe into how the gun ended up in the school bathroom.

Assistant State's Attorney Michael O. Bergeson said the gun was left for the boy by another seventh-grader. Charges against the second child were dropped this month after pupils told investigators they saw him with the weapon as early as Nov. 19, but not on Dec. 9, the day in question.

Bergeson said he will refile charges against the second pupil after police finish their investigation.

Defense attorney Mark A. Darden III said his client needed to use the bathroom and found the gun there. Not knowing what to do, he picked it up. "Two witnesses could state that he had it," said Darden. "But his intent was not a criminal intent. He had every intention of turning it in to the office."

Darden had criticized school officials, saying the teacher should not have left the bathroom unattended after learning there was a gun inside, but should have sent a pupil to alert the office while he stood guard.

School officials defended the teacher, saying he acted quickly and reasonably. The boy went into the bathroom after the teacher, alerted by another pupil, saw the gun in a stall and told all the children not to enter the boys' room. The teacher walked across the hall into his classroom to alert school administrators, prosecutors said. When the teacher and principal M. Jacques Smith entered the bathroom to get the weapon, the boy was there and the gun wasn't.

After they repeatedly asked him where it was, he pulled it from his pocket. "That was poor judgment exercised by a 12-year-old. But there was poor judgment exercised by an adult," Darden said.

The next step, the boy's lawyers said, is to get him in school. The boy was suspended and then expelled. He has a Feb. 3 date for airing his appeal before a school board panel.

The other defense attorney, Evelyn O. A. Darden, said she hoped the boy could start attending a school other than Meade Middle, where he has been taunted and threatened due to the charges.

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