- Prosecutors in Harris County, Texas, charged 216 students with making school threats in just three months following the Parkland shooting in Florida.
- The chief juvenile prosecutor, John Jordan, told The Wall Street Journal that many of the students’ charges were reduced or dropped after prosecutors examined the cases more closely.
- Jordan said his office is now reevaluating its approach, and will be more selective about the students prosecuted for making threats.
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A Texas prosecutor is vowing not to “just charge kids for being idiots” after reflecting on a major hike in student arrests in the wake of last year’s massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
In the three months following the deadly February 14 shooting, prosecutors in Harris County charged 216 students with making school threats – many of them with felonies – according to the Houston Chronicle and John Jordan, the district attorney’s chief juvenile prosecutor.
Jordan told The Wall Street Journal that when he looked more closely at the cases, he realized that nearly 90% of them involved first-time offenders, and most of the students charged were between the ages of 12 and 14.
Jordan also said that some of the students’ charges were reduced or dropped after prosecutors examined them more thoroughly.
‘Our mission should be to protect kids, not arrest kids’
In one instance, Jordan said prosecutors dropped charges against a 14-year-old girl who was arrested after posting an Instagram photo of a fake gun in a classroom with the caption “BIG MOOD,” according to the Journal.
Jordan told the paper his office also dropped charges against a 12-year-old boy with autism who was arrested after threatening to shoot up a school. Jordan said the boy showed up to court terrified, and was “not a threat to anybody.”
“Obviously, we’re all petrified of the next school shooter,” Jordan told The Journal. “But our mission should be to protect kids, not arrest kids.”
Jordan said since his office reexamined the post-Parkland prosecutions, his office has decided to let staff and school resource officers handle cases like that of the 14-year-old girl and the 12-year-old boy. His office, he told the paper, will instead prioritize cases in which students’ threats are more detailed, or in cases where they know the students have access to weapons.
“We’re not going to just charge kids for being idiots,” he said.
Black students and students with disabilities are the most affected
But despite the striking figures from Harris County, the trend was similar across the state, according to a report by Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit focused on criminal-justice issues.
The report found that after the Parkland shooting, Texas juvenile probation departments saw a 156% hike in referrals for terroristic threats, and a 600% hike in referrals for “exhibition of firearms,” though most of those incidents involved threats to exhibit a weapon, not possession of a weapon.
The report also found that black students were disproportionately affected, and were more than twice as likely as all other students to be referred. The report also suggested that students with disabilities were also likely overrepresented in arrests.
“While schools must respond to threats of violence, media articles that our team reviewed as part of our research for this report suggest that many schools are following a ‘zero tolerance’ policy that fails to distinguish between students who actually pose a threat and those who have no ability or intention of harming anyone,” the report said.
- Read more:
- The school resource officer who failed to confront the Parkland gunman has been charged with child neglect, but experts say you can’t ‘criminalize cowardice’
- The therapy dogs who helped survivors of the Parkland shooting got their own page in the school’s yearbook
- Here’s what’s changed on gun control since last year’s deadly Parkland shooting – and what hasn’t
- These are the victims of last year’s deadly Parkland shooting