Teachers union upset about charges dropped against teen who brought gun to Akron school

·5 min read
The semi-automatic pistol an Akron teen was accused of bringing to Kenmore-Garfield High School in October.
The semi-automatic pistol an Akron teen was accused of bringing to Kenmore-Garfield High School in October.

The Akron teachers union is upset that charges have been dropped against a 14-year-old Akron boy who was arrested in October for allegedly bringing an unloaded handgun to Kenmore-Garfield High School.

The teen was arrested Oct. 26 after administrators say he was found to have a .22-caliber handgun in his backpack and a marijuana cigarette in his pocket.

His arrest happened at a time when the Akron Education Association was concerned about an uptick in incidents involving violence and weapons in schools, with the union's board of trustees passing a "no-confidence" resolution in the administration for its handling of security concerns.

More: Akron Public Schools teachers union sounding alarm over violent, disruptive student behavior

The teen was charged with illegal conveyance or possession of weapons on school premises and drug abuse marijuana. Summit County prosecutors dismissed the charges on Jan. 18 in juvenile court without prejudice, which means they could be refiled.

Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Brian LoPrinzi.
Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Brian LoPrinzi.

Assistant Prosecutor Brian LoPrinzi, who heads the criminal division, said the teen couldn't be charged with a felony because the gun was inoperable and he couldn't be charged with a misdemeanor because there was no evidence he showed or brandished the weapon.

"Without those elements, we're in a situation where we couldn't prove the case, so, ethically, we have to dismiss the case,” LoPrinzi said.

If prosecutors get information that the teen showed the gun to others at the school, LoPrinzi said, they will file new charges against him.

Pat Shipe, president of the teachers union that has nearly 2,700 members, said the dropping of the charges is an example of teachers and school resource officers doing their jobs to keep kids safe — but then "they don't get the backup they deserve." She is concerned about what message this sends.

"To dismiss any charges against anyone, even a student, bringing a weapon into a school building, is beyond my comprehension," Shipe said. "And it sends a very dangerous message out that we have become desensitized to weapons in our schools."

Two teens arrested for weapons

The 14-year-old was arrested after he walked out of class without permission and was found to have a handgun in a pocket of his backpack and a joint in his pants pocket, according to a police report.

The teen told police he didn't know how the weapon or the joint got into his backpack and pocket, according to the report.

His arrest came six days after a similar incident in which a 17-year-old at Kenmore-Garfield was arrested for having a loaded Glock 19 with 16 9 mm rounds, a magazine with 14 rounds, 13.2 grams of marijuana, plastics baggies, and a digital scale in his backpack. He was charged with illegal conveyance or possession of weapons on a school premises, possession of marijuana paraphernalia and possession of drugs, according to a police report.

This teen was sentenced on Dec. 9 to 90 days in the Summit County Juvenile Detention Center and six months of probation. He also received a suspended prison sentence, which means, if he gets into trouble again, he could be confined to the Department of Youth Services for a period of between six months up until the time he turns 21, said David Horner, a spokesman for juvenile court.

In addition to criminal charges, both teens faced discipline through the district. Mark Williamson, a district spokesman, declined to say what the discipline was but said it was handled in accordance with the Board of Education's policies.

LoPrinzi said the 17-year-old's case was different from the 14-year-old's because the weapon was loaded and therefore workable, which made this a felony.

LoPrinzi said he understands the teachers union's concerns about the charges against the 14-year-old being dropped. He asked that anyone with additional information about this incident contact the school's resource officer or Akron police.

"This is one of the red flags," LoPrinzi said. "Kid. School. Gun. Those are three things that go together that shouldn't. When they do, it really gets our attention."

Security measures added

The arrests of the two teens were among numerous problems in the schools in late October that prompted new security measures, including increased use of metal detectors at the beginning of school and randomly throughout the day, more staff presence during class changes and further limiting the number of entrances into school buildings.

More: Akron schools looking for 'reset' after months of dealing with increased behavioral issues

On Oct. 13, the teachers union's trustees passed a resolution of "no confidence" in the district's Office of Student Support Services, including Director Dan Rambler, along with the Office of Special Education and the district's hearing officer. The union said it had seen an increase in highly concerning student behaviors that put staff and other students at risk, including weapons being brought to school and a fight involving multiple students that injured Jennifer Morales, a Kenmore-Garfield teacher whose nose was broken.

Jennifer Morales, culinary arts instructor at Kenmore-Garfield High School, talks about the emails of support from her students after her nose was broken when she tried to stop a fight in October.
Jennifer Morales, culinary arts instructor at Kenmore-Garfield High School, talks about the emails of support from her students after her nose was broken when she tried to stop a fight in October.

More: Akron Public Schools teachers say lax discipline practices put them in harm's way

The concerns raised by the union and its members led to a collaboration between the union and administration about how to improve safety in the schools.

Shipe has said the pandemic made an already bad situation worse. The union demonstrated at a school board meeting in 2018, calling for changes in discipline practices.

Police take weapons, threats seriously

Deputy Chief Brian Harding said steps taken by the administration, in conjunction with the police department, have helped to improve safety in the schools in the past few months. He said the department has a great partnership with the district that includes having resource officers in the middle and high schools.

Harding, who has been with the police department for 26 years, said the department takes violence, weapons — and the threat of either of these — seriously.

"These are a big deal for us," he said. "It is not acceptable to bring a weapon to school."

Harding urged parents and community members who become aware of a student who may have brought a weapon to school to reach out to police or school administrators. He said these concerns will be investigated.

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com, 330-996-3705 and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj. Jennifer Pignolet can be reached at jpignolet@thebeaconjournal.com, 330-996-3216 and on Twitter: @ JenPignolet.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Union concerned about charges dropped against teen with gun in school

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