News Roundup: Gun And Threat-Related Charges Spike For Texas Students After Recent Shootings

Our daily look at Texas headlines.

By Becky FogelJuly 17, 2018 1:59 pm

A new report finds the number of Texas students facing charges for terroristic threats or the exhibition of firearms has spiked in the wake of school shootings in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas.

Texas Appleseed found that the number of students referred to juvenile probation departments for terroristic threats increased by 156 percent from January through May of 2018, compared to the same period the year before.

Texas Appleseed executive director Deborah Fowler says almost any threat of violence can constitute a terroristic threat – and lead to a child being arrested and coming into contact with the juvenile justice system. She’s concerned that they’re seeing younger and younger kids facing charges for these offenses.

“We’re seeing cases involving young students,” Fowler says, “students as young as 11 or 12-years-old who may have even just been responding out of frustration to a bully, but who didn’t have the ability or the intent to carry through with whatever the threat was.”

There was a 600 percent increase in referrals for exhibition of firearms – actually showing one or threatening to. And in two-thirds of those cases, students threatened to show a weapon, but did not actually possess one. Fowler explains that certain students are facing these charges more than others.

“We analyzed the data by race and ethnicity and found that black students are disproportionately represented,” Fowler says. “They are about two times more likely than other students to be arrested for a terrorist threat or exhibition of firearms.”

Fowler says the spike in charges is indicative of a return to “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies in schools. She urges state lawmakers to consider alternatives, especially since they’ve adopted reforms that have moved away from such policies since 2005.

Fowler says evidence-based threat assessment models would be an effective and affordable strategy for school safety. Citing several studies, Fowler says “only about 1 percent of the threats that are referred to threat assessment teams are substantive threats that merit contact with law enforcement or expulsion.”

Gov. Greg Abbott called for expanding behavioral threat assessment programs in a 40-point plan to improve school safety in the wake of the Santa Fe High School shooting. Members of the State Senate meet Wednesday, July 18, to continue examining strategies to improve school safety.

A man was found guilty Monday for burning down the Victoria Islamic Center 18 months ago. A jury convicted 26-year-old Marq Vincent Perez on of his all three charges, including damaging a religious property – which is a hate crime.

Abe Ajrami is a member of the mosque’s board of trustees.

He told the Victoria Advocate this verdict was of international significance, especially after people around the world donated to help them rebuild.

“There are about 21-thousand donors from 91 countries these donors are waiting for the verdict,” Ajrami said. “This is a statement from our country, USA, that everybody is equal under the law.”

Perez will face sentencing on October 2.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has a lot more cash on hand for his re-election bid this November than his Democratic challenger.

Abbott has nearly $29 million in the bank going into Election Day. In comparison, his opponent – former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez – has $222,000 to spend.