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Standing to the right is Frank Carey, Plumas Unified School District Facilities foreman and safety officer, explaining protocol to members of the audience at a forum held at Greenville High School on Wednesday, Jan. 29. From left are other members of a panel including District Attorney David Hollister, District 2 Supervisor Kevin Goss (there but not visible), PUSD Governing Board member Dave Keller, Plumas County Behavioral Health Director Tony Hobson, Plumas County Probation Chief Erin Metcalf, Sheriff Todd Johns, and Sgt. Steve Clark, Quincy Area California Highway Patrol Lt. Erick Egide, Carey and Ray Bakker of PUSD Maintenance and Facilities. Photo by Victoria Metcalf

GHS forum focuses on threat leading to student’s arrest

Thursday, Jan. 23 — is the day the real world rushed in to one Plumas County public school — and school officials and law enforcement were there to meet the threat head-on.

At approximately 10:45 a.m., on a day just like any other day at Greenville High School, one 15-year-old student allegedly made certain comments to a teacher that were construed as threatening.

It was class time, students were seated at tables, when the suspect walked up to the teacher and made remarks, according to Chris Hendrickson, Plumas County Sheriff’s detective.

He said the unidentified teacher immediately took his concerns to Traci Cockerill, principal of both Greenville’s elementary and the high school.

Cockerill immediately detained the student, secured him in the office where he was searched for weapons or evidence. The sheriff’s office was also called.

A deputy in Greenville immediately arrived. A second arrived from Chester in less than 25 minutes. The student was arrested and is charged with 422 of the California Penal Code — one felony count of criminal threats.

Plumas County Probation staff is detaining him.

According to District Attorney David Hollister, the juvenile was arraigned in juvenile court Jan. 27. His next court date was Feb. 3. Craig Osborne, a Plumas County attorney, is defending the student.

Safety forum

In an effort to dispel social media rumors, allay fears, discuss Plumas Unified School District’s protocol, and even allow time for venting, county officials, law enforcement and PUSD representatives met in a public forum at GHS on Wednesday, Jan. 29, less than a week after the incident.

Hollister told the audience of more than 40 people that he understands the tension, frayed nerves and other anxieties surrounding the incident the previous Thursday morning.

Setting the stage, Hollister went through the legal process following the arrest of a juvenile.

While incidents at both Greenville schools have been reported to the sheriff’s office over at least the last two school years, threats were not taken seriously.

To demonstrate his point, Hollister gave an example. Using a member of the assembled panel, Hollister said he could say something that could be construed as threatening to the individual, but if that person laughed it off and didn’t take it as threatening, then it wasn’t a crime. To be a crime, the words or actions of an individual must be meant to be threatening and construed as being threatening by the intended individual and/or others. Hollister emphasized that the message has to be taken seriously even by third or fourth-hand and that individual or individuals feel threatened.

All proceedings take place in juvenile court, Hollister told the audience, which are closed to the public in order to protect the juvenile’s rights.

Hollister said there are laws in place concerning the juvenile that means there are questions “that I can’t answer.” He further explained that would be infringing on the juvenile’s rights.

There is different terminology associated with juvenile court than is used in an adult court, Hollister said.

The main focus of juvenile proceedings is on rehabilitation of the offender and that the community is safeguarded.

Laying out what happened without going into detail Hollister said, “during the morning of Jan. 23, 2020, a 15-year-old student in Greenville made certain comments during school, which were taken as threatening in nature toward the students and faculty at the school.”

“The incident was quickly reported to school administrators who promptly followed threat protocol,” Hollister said, adding, “Law enforcement was notified and immediately responded. Appropriate initial interviews and searches occurred the same day.”

“With the exception of a brief handwritten note, no evidence was discovered indicating any further steps were undertaken in furtherance of the reported threat,” Hollister said.

The student was searched at school, and sheriff’s officers continued the search at the student’s home. “No weapons or writings or other items of evidence were found indicating an intention to act on the threat,” Hollister told the gathering Jan. 29.

The juvenile might have been charged, allowed to appear in court and then released awaiting additional proceedings, but Plumas County Probation Chief Erin Metcalf “did not let that happen,” Hollister said.

Questions and concerns

“This is hard on everybody,” Hollister told the audience. And while each PUSD school has participated in practice drills, this is the first threat that has been taken seriously and led to an arrest.

A written question taken from someone in the audience concerned counseling services. Hollister indicated that Plumas County Behavioral Health Director Tony Hobson should respond.

Hobson said that the residents of Indian Valley are fortunate in having the local Wellness Center. Professional counseling services are available every Tuesday from 8 to 11 a.m.

Portola and Chester have similar services, and everyone is welcome to make an appointment at the main office in Quincy, Monday through Friday.

Another concern focused on what would school staff do the next time, and why the school was not placed on lockdown at the time of the incident.

“The good news is that this school district is way ahead of other school districts,” in the state, Hollister responded. PUSD has a written policy and procedures in place. Drills are practiced at each school so that everyone knows just what to do.

In this situation, school officials were immediately notified of the perceived threat and the student was taken into custody inside the school and then searched.

If the student had had a weapon or if anything were discovered that would alert school officials of further danger, then a different protocol would have been immediately used, Hollister said.

The sheriff’s protocol was “100 percent spot on,” Hollister said. They weigh every situation. In this case the student was already secured inside a room and he had been searched.

PUSD Facilities Foreman Frank Carey said he wanted to take the opportunity to “piggyback” on what Hollister said. “Had something been found (weapon or more materials on the student or in his locker) then that day would have been a lot different.”

Carey said that Cockerill did what she did in an effort not to alarm other students. There was no need to take the additional step of a full lockdown. “She did what she had been taught to do, what I taught them to do,” Carey said.

Carey, as the safety trainer for PUSD, has ALICE training. ALICE — Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate — is one of the top active shooter defense programs in the nation.

Another question asked was why schools don’t have metal detectors. Carey said the district is now working to implement another phase of its security systems. Intruder alerts are being installed and will be in every PUSD school by the beginning of the 20-2021 school year.

Intruder alerts include speakers and LED display or printout boards in each room.

Currently, schools have a bell signal, and lockdown attachments on each door. Once the lookdown is in place, teachers and students are trained to shove desks, tables and anything else against the door to provide a barricade that would further hamper an intruder should he make it through the locked door.

Ray Bakker of maintenance and facilities in the schools added that this is a transitional period in implementing the full system. “Do we want to be in prison?” he said about having a metal detector at each site. “I don’t think any of us want this.”

Bakker said that they could look at a single access site at each facility. They might do a pilot program at one school to see how a specific plan could work. Baker thought that officials were well aware of threats or what could be threats.

PUSD Superintendent Terry Oestreich said that Measure B funding “has prioritized those conversations.”

Currently school sites vary about how many doors remain open during school hours. Some sites keep all of the doors locked except for the main access door. Cockerill’s schools now have multiple access points.

One parent in the audience stated, “Our kids don’t feel safe.” Her question focused on how officials could make them feel safe. “We need to have single access with metal detectors,” she said.

She said that she would rather that the school looks like a prison with metal detectors and the student feel safe in school.

She said that her child is having nightmares and panic attacks since the incident at her school and that she thought she would be moving her child to independent study in order to make her feel safe.

Hollister returned to the notion that lockdown was an option, but it wasn’t warranted. The student was cooperative. He complied with what was asked of him. He didn’t try to fight or escape. “It wasn’t a scenario where lockdown would have been appropriate.”

Cockerill said that “a student made a comment that ‘my class was in lockdown,” that didn’t happen. While sheriff’s officers were working in the hallway while they conducted their investigation, Cockerill said that she did close some doors and asked teachers to keep the students out of the hallways.

If a lockdown occurs then the latching mechanism installed on the inside of all classroom doors, and on the outside of a few other doors, would have been in place. Carey showed the audience the black latch on a door into the library. He said that when that lock is pushed into position it secures itself into the door framework. Cockerill explained that the door can’t be unlocked until she or Carey or a sheriff’s officer unlocks it.

Also, the door to the student’s classroom had not been barricaded, it was pointed out. That was an important way for students to understand the difference in whether a door is closed or lockdown is in place.

Cockerill said that she also has reminded students that if they hear something or see something that makes them feel uncomfortable they should report it immediately. She said that students shouldn’t worry about whether the information or sighting was true or not, let someone else be concerned about that.

Carey also reminded parents to tell their child about where to go to access a safe place off campus should something happen. Running away is often the best means of protecting themselves.

Carey said that he told his son to run off campus and head for his business. Then he was to call him immediately to let him know that everything was safe. “Tell your kids where to go,” he said.

Carey also recommended that parents take five minutes maybe a few times a mouth to discuss safe places with their children.

Carey also reminded everyone that they must quiet their cell phones during a lockdown. He also encouraged staff to talk to students about silencing the cell phone. Carey said they couldn’t add to the confusion with many different cell phone tones and music adding to the atmosphere.

Another question asked whether there was a second student involved in the threat. Hollister said there wasn’t and there was no indication that it was anything, but what it shaped up to be.

Another question concerned whether the student would ever be allowed to return to school. Hollister said that is up to school officials. There are California education codes that need to be consulted concerning discipline or expulsion of a student.

Cockerill said that she went to the state’s education code to see what was required of her to report the incident. When she is done with her report it goes on to Special Education Director Kevin Bean for further information.

Section 422 penal code

California Penal Code Section 422 covers criminal threats.

Definition: While people are afforded broad freedom of speech rights under the first Amendment to the Constitution, does not allow it to include the threat of violence to other people or putting them in fear.

Under Penal Code 422, it is illegal to make criminal threats. Until recently, this covered making terrorist threats, but it now includes any threats of violence or harm.

To prove that someone is guilty of making a criminal threat, it must be established that the person making the threat willfully threatened to unlawfully kill or cause great bodily injury to another person.

The threat can be made orally, in writing or, as of 2015, under 422.5 the threat can be made by electronic communication.

The individual must also intend his comment, written word or communication to be understood as a threat. It also must be clear, immediate, unconditional and specific.

There must also be a serious intention and an immediate prospect that the  threat would be carried out.

And the threat must cause the other person or persons, even if they’re not present to hear the actual threat, fear for his or her own safety or the safety of his or her immediate family. The individual’s fear must also be reasonable under the circumstances. The individual who makes the threat doe not have to actually intend to carry out the threat or have someone else do it. An immediate ability to carry out the threat is not required.

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