Harrison student released into parent’s custody awaiting adjudication

The Harrison High School student who brought two guns—a loaded .357 Magnum and an unloaded .22 caliber revolver—to school last year on Jan. 25, 2013, and allegedly made more threats in a Facebook message thread between Jan. 5 and 14, 2014, returned to the Madison County Juvenile Court on Feb. 3 for initial consideration and requests about bond.

The youth was initially placed in a secure juvenile detention facility following a probably cause hearing on Jan. 15.  At the conclusion of the Feb. 3 hearing, Judge Loren Tucker ordered the student be moved from the facility and placed on house arrest at his parents’ home in Harrison, though the state opposed the placement.

Madison County Deputy County Attorney Justin Ekwall filed a petition with the court, alleging the youth be named as delinquent “within the meaning of Section 41-5-103(11), MCA, in that he has committed an offense that, if committed by an adult, would constitute a criminal offense.”

The filed petition continued to allege the youth committed the offenses of obstructing a peace officer and intimidation. The charge of intimidation, a felony, is based on the alleged threats the student made about the school in Facebook messages to a female student, according to Ekwall, and the charge of obstructing a peace officer, a misdemeanor, is based on the youth’s alleged initial insistence to law enforcement that he had no way of accessing Facebook, which he then recanted.

Lisa Bazant, the youth’s attorney, entered a plea of not true on behalf of the youth to Tucker on Feb. 3.

The hearing then addressed the stipulations of the youth’s bond and his placement in the interim before his adjudicatory hearing. Tucker asked to hear from the state first.

“The state would ask that the bond and all of its conditions be continued,” Ekwall said. “Everyone close to the case that the state has talked to believe these threats should be taken seriously. The state has immense concern for public safety.”

Bazant requested the court consider putting the youth on home arrest, with education and treatment at a day program, Youth Dynamics, based out of Bozeman. The youth had been attending school at Youth Dynamics since his return home after completing the court-designated program from his previous adjudication until the time of the most recent alleged incident on Jan. 14, 2014.

Eckwall “vigorously opposed” Bazant’s request that the youth be placed on home arrest because a “home arrest scenario would be similar to the same situation under which the [second] alleged threats were made.”

Sam Stockett, chief juvenile probation officer for the county, pointed out the youth was not formally on house arrest when he was last at home.

“His parents are now agents of the court and if [the youth] leaves home or violates house arrest and they do not report it, they will be held in contempt of the court,” Stockett said, explaining how the house arrest situation would be different than last time. “They are now accountable and were willing to accept that responsibility.”

Before reaching a decision, Tucker addressed the youth’s parents directly.

“The only thing between him and jail at this point is the event that you can insist on his compliance,” Tucker said.

“[You] will be at Youth Dynamics or home or in the immediate presence of both parents—not one, but both.  Immediate presence means that you are going to be within arm’s length,” Tucker said, addressing the youth. “You will not be on school grounds at any time… As of this instant you are going to comply instantly with every one of [your parents’] reasonable requests and there will be no debate about whether it is reasonable.”

According to Tucker’s orders, the youth is allowed no contact with the alleged victim or her family. The youth is required to attend every class every day at Youth Dynamics and comply with his doctor’s mental health orders. The youth is not allowed access to the Internet and cannot be in possession of firearms, destructive devices or damaging weapons.

At the Jan. 15 hearing, Stockett testified that the threat “should be given genuine credence based on the history… I feel like he is a threat to the community.”

Following Tucker’s Feb. 3 order for home arrest, Stockett said he would do “everything to ensure the home arrest situation works.”

“The judge made a decision and I support that decision,” he added.

Harrison School Superintendent Fred Hofman released a public statement on Feb. 4 following Tucker’s order.

“My staff and the victim’s parents are very upset by Judge Tucker’s decision and the unnecessary turmoil it has caused the school,” Hofman said in the press release. “They just really can’t believe it.”

In light of the youth’s release, Hofman and Willow Creek Superintendent, Bonnie Lower, who was also at the Feb. 3 hearing, decided to hold Harrison-Willow Creek basketball practice at Willow Creek for at least a week, according to Lower. The Friday, Feb. 7 basketball game against Sheridan will also take place at Willow Creek instead of the Harrison School.

“We take threats very seriously—and in good conscience I cannot send kids into a situation where there have been threats made,” Lower said. “I am very disappointed in the outcome [of the hearing].”

According to Lower and Hofman, there are not yet plans to hold basketball practices and games at Willow Creek beyond this week, but both are interested in extending the move as long as there is a “perceived threat.”

The youth’s adjudicatory hearing has not yet been scheduled but will take place at the Madison County Courthouse.

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