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Why was charge dropped for Akron teen found with gun at Kenmore-Garfield High School?

Gun from KGHS 102621 incident.jpg
Posted at 1:00 PM, Jan 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-28 18:14:19-05

AKRON, Ohio — Questions are surfacing after the Summit County Juvenile Prosecutor's office dismissed a charge against a 14-year-old boy who had a gun in his backpack at Kenmore-Garfield High School in Akron.

Pat Shipe, president of Akron Education Association, called the decision "alarming" and wants to know why it happened.

"To have charges dismissed is just, to me, beyond words. I do not understand it," Shipe said. "There have to be consequences to actions."

The incident happened on the morning of October 26, 2021.

Kenmore-Garfield High School in Akron.

According to a police report, the student left a class without permission and he was located in a hallway by an administrator who could smell marijuana on the teen.

The administrator searched the boy's backpack and found a black .22 caliber handgun in the right side pocket, police said.

Gun from KGHS 102621 incident.jpg
The gun that was found with a student at Kenmore-Garfield High School.

A school resource officer was notified and confiscated the gun. The officer also found "a burnt marijuana roach" in the student's right pants pocket, according to the report.

In a recorded statement, the student told police he didn't know how the gun got in his backpack or how the marijuana got in his pants, according to the report.

The teen was charged with illegal conveyance or possession of weapons on school premises.

However, on January 18, a juvenile prosecutor requested the charge be dismissed. The charge was officially dropped on January 20, according to a Summit County Juvenile Court official.

Police said the gun was not loaded, but Shipe said that doesn't lessen the seriousness of a weapon brought into a school.

"A weapon is a weapon," she said. "I don't believe whether the gun is loaded or unloaded, it should not make any difference. We cannot begin to minimize and desensitize the society to students bringing weapons into school buildings," Shipe said.

Deputy Chief Brian Harding said the Akron Police Department was also trying to get an explanation from prosecutors.

"Bringing a weapon to school is never acceptable. It's something that we take very seriously. We work in collaboration with our partners at the school and the court system as well for those cases. Absolutely, we feel charges are appropriate in that situation," Harding said. "I don't know all the specifics of the decisions made ultimately by the court."

During an interview Friday afternoon, Brian LoPrinzi, the chief of the criminal division, told News 5 the case was dropped because of a combination of factors— the gun was never shown to anyone and the weapon wasn't workable because it was missing a magazine.

Therefore, prosecutors did not have the elements needed to move the case forward.

"If the gun was workable, it would have been a felony and there would be no issues in this case. But when it becomes not workable, then you have to be able to display it and show it and that made it a problem because it was in the backpack," LoPrinzi said.

LoPrinzi also stressed he understands why the teacher's union and police would be concerned about the outcome of the case, but prosecutors felt like their hands were tied.

"If they were to change the law and said that no matter whether you displayed it or not— if you have any gun or weapon whether it's operable or not on the premises— we'd be more than happy to prosecute that case just to keep those out of school," LoPrinzi said.

LoPrinzi said if new information comes to light, prosecutors could refile charges against the 14-year-old.

"Under no circumstances do we want kids to be able to bring anything that even looks like a gun to school," he said.

On the disciplinary side, the high school building administration recommended the student for expulsion, but the hearing officer referred him to an alternative educational setting in a different building for up to one year, according to district and union officials.