Originally created 02/21/01

School reviews crime reporting



An Evans Middle School pupil reportedly made terroristic threats against a teacher, but the incident wasn't reported to the sheriff's office until two days later.

The incident is the most recent example of miscommunication between the Columbia County Sheriff's Office and the school system that has led officials on both sides to re-examine the policy on how school campus crimes should be reported.

"The school was aware of the incident, and we would have preferred that school officials would have contacted us the day of the incident," said sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris, adding that another incident could have occurred in the two-day window without the protection of the sheriff's office. "In this case, fortunately, no one was harmed, and the school took administrative action. But we may not be so lucky next time."

Columbia County schools Superintendent Tommy Price said he, too, was concerned by the late report.

"I would hope in the future all of our reports like this would be timely," he said.

Mr. Price said school policy is to alert the sheriff's office of all criminal cases.

"We don't want to be in the law enforcement business," he said.

Capt. Morris said the policy of reporting such crimes has changed several times in recent years, with the responsibility bouncing between the sheriff's office and the school system's campus police, leading to confusion over who should handle incidents.

"We are in the process of finalizing an updated version of the memorandum of understanding, which will clearly outline how (school officials) handle criminal incidents," Capt. Morris said.

According to the incident report in the Evans Middle case, an unidentified 14-year-old wrote a letter threatening eighth-grade teacher Kathy Youngblood because he had received bad grades. The incident occurred Feb. 14 and was reported to the sheriff's office Feb. 16.

Police say the juvenile was suspended from school for two days.

Mr. Price said the suspension met the minimum punishment guideline for middle schools and abided by the zero tolerance policy, which states that crimes such as threats will not go unpunished.

"There's different degrees of discretion throughout this policy," Mr. Price said. "Depending on age, you have to have a little more discretion to determine was there really a threat here?"

Mr. Price said Evans Middle officials took the more lenient approach because the 14-year-old had never been in trouble before and had expressed remorse. The teacher involved said she did not want to prosecute the pupil.

But Capt. Morris said the threat could have violated state law, giving the sheriff's office the authority to override the teacher's request to waive prosecution.

Evans Middle School Principal Myrel Seigler declined to comment.

Reach Melissa Hall or Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222.