Threats against schools: What happens after students get arrested?

Published: February 12, 2020 6:00 PM EST
Updated: February 13, 2020 8:31 AM EST

What happens to the kids arrested for making threats against their school or classmates? Two years after the shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, law enforcement in Southwest Florida has investigated more than 400 school threats.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office investigated at least 380 school threats, according to data WINK News collected between Feb. 14, 2018, and Nov. 19, 2019. In 2019 alone, law enforcement in Lee County arrested at least 25 children, some as young as 12 years old.

Comparatively, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office said it has investigated 65 school threats since Parkland, and Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office investigated three school threats.

Nearing the first anniversary in February 2019, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno promised anyone making threats, real or fake, will suffer severe consequences. This came with the launch of the Fake Threats, Real Consequences campaign in conjunction with the Lee County School District.

“These individuals will be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible,” Marceno said in the joint press conference with State Attorney Amira Fox, Commissioner Brian Hamman, and Superintendent Greg Adkins.

To that end, LCSO went on to post some students’ mug shots along with their name and birthday on social media.

“Our goal is to be proactive, and we will take a zero-tolerance stance on any and all threats,” Marceno said during that same 2019 press conference.

But did those tactics work and stop other kids from making similar threats?

WINK News asked to sit down with Sheriff Marceno, but Lt. Anita Iriarte with LCSO Public Affairs responded to our request saying, “We are respectfully declining.”

At that same press conference in 2019, State Attorney Amira Fox doubled down on Marceno’s words.

“It is not funny, it is not a prank. We do not see it as a prank; we see it as a threat,” Fox said. “When any situation like this occurs, all hands are on deck.”

Six months later, she reiterated how seriously her office takes threats like these.

“We don’t know if we are dealing with just a jokester who is really, really dumb, immature or if we are dealing with someone who is going to go into a school and actually shoot it up. We take it like it is number two,” Fox said in an interview with WINK News in August 2019.

But that still doesn’t answer what is happening to these kids after they face a judge.

WINK News contacted Fox’s office to find out how those kids were punished. Citing F.S. 119.07(1), Assistant State Attorney Jody Brown said that information is considered confidential and exempt from public records.

Brown wrote in an email:

“The dispositions and case notes are specifically exempted by 119.07(1).  Please refer to Florida Statute 985.04(2) for a review of the materials that may be disclosed in a juvenile case.  Your request will be considered closed since I have nothing I am able to provide.”

WINK News asked for an on-camera interview with State Attorney Fox, she declined.

In order to get a glimpse at whether the people in charge of keeping kids safe are following through on their promises, WINK News had to reach out to families directly.

No parents felt comfortable enough to talk on camera, but three parents spoke to WINK News by phone, explaining their child’s situation and the outcome. Two of the three said the whole process was far from rehabilitative, and one even said their child is “worse” now since transferring to an alternative school.

“I haven’t been able to find any data to show what happens with them,” said criminal justice expert and former police officer Dr. Dave Thomas.

He said there are a number of things that could happen to a kid who goes through the system.

“A lot of times what I see happen is the state will withhold adjudication and put them in a ‘program’ of some sort, some sort of diversion program. And as a result, that kid has to basically, for that year, has to be clean and work off his record,” Thomas said.

Kids can also spend 21 days in juvenile detention.

Ultimately though, without the sheriff or the state attorney reporting back on their very public promise, the community does not know if it’s doing the student or society more harm than good.

“We’ve been in this whole thing of not rehabilitating with these kids and, ‘let’s just lock them up and lock them up.’ And the cycle just continues,” Thomas said.