Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I remember when playing with toy guns was was socially acceptable

But not anymore...

10 Yr. Old with Toy Gun Arrested, Fingerprinted

NEWTON COUNTY, Ga. -- The latest case of zero-tolerance at the public schools has a 10-year-old student sadder and wiser, and facing expulsion and long-term juvenile detention. And it has his mother worried that his punishment has already been harsher than the offense demands.

"I think I shouldn't have brought a gun to school in the first place," said the student, Alandis Ford, sitting at home Thursday night with his mother, Tosha Ford, at his side.

Alandis' gun was a "cap gun," a toy cowboy six-shooter that his mother bought for him.

"We got it from Wal-Mart for $5.96," Tosha Ford said, "in the toy section right next to the cowboy hats. That's what he wanted because it was just like the ones he was studying for the Civil War" in his fifth-grade class at Fairview Elementary School.

"It kind of reminded me of the [soldiers'] guns that I was studying," Alandis said, "because I had brought pictures home of the gun and stuff, and that gun that I had reminded me of the revolver" depicted in his textbook.

Tosha said that Wednesday afternoon, after school, "six police officers actually rushed into the door" of their home. "He [Alandis] opened the door because they're police. And then they just kind of pushed him out of the way, and asked him, 'Well where's the gun, where's the real gun?' And they called him a liar... they booked him, and they fingerprinted him."

The "police officers" were actually Newton County Sheriff's Deputies.

Lt. Mark Mitchell said Thursday that Alandis had used the toy gun to threaten other children on the school bus and in his neighborhood, which Alandis denies.

Alandis was charged with possessing a weapon on school property and with terroristic acts and threats.

"On the school bus," on Tuesday, Alandis said, "when I dug into my bookbag trying to get my phone out, the boy beside me, he reached in my bookbag and got it [the toy gun] and started telling everybody, 'He's got a gun, he's got a gun,' and spread it around the whole bus. So I put it back in my bookbag."

But he said the students kept shouting, "He's going to shoot all y'all, he's got a gun, he's going to bring it to school and shoot all y'all." Did Alandis ever say anything like that or make any threatening moves with his toy gun? "No!"

The school bus driver never caught on to what the students were saying, and as a result never confiscated Alandis' toy gun.

There is video from inside the school bus, and investigators are reviewing it.

The next afternoon, Wednesday afternoon, Alandis and his cousin went to the home of a friend in the neighborhood, another 10-year-old boy, to play with him.

"And we told him, 'We came over to see if you can come out.' He saw the gun that I had. So he ran in the house and called 911."

Alandis said he found out later that his friend had never before seen a gun and thought it was real, and thought Alandis might shoot it. Alandis insists he never said anything to the friend other than inviting him to come out and play.

"The 911 call that we received" on Wednesday, Lt. Mitchell said, "was that a 10-year-old male was outside of a residence with a gun threatening to shoot another child."

Mitchell was referring to the incident report from the Newton County Sheriff's investigators who write that deputies "responded to a 911 call from a ten-year-old [neighbor of the Fords] who said there was a boy outside of his house with a gun trying to kill him."

Lt. Mitchell said that, apart from Alandis' denial that he made any threats, investigators quickly realized that the only gun Alandis had was his cap gun.

"In this day and time, we do not take anything lightly, whether it's a toy gun or a real weapon, for the safety of the kids and everyone involved, the safety of the school. That's our main concern."

Tosha Ford agrees that Alandis should not have brought the toy gun to school, and did not know that he did, but she said the reaction that unfolded was overblown, due to rumors that school children quickly spread.

"Someone heard that Alandis had a toy gun in his bookbag and said, 'Oh, Alandis is going to bring a gun, he's going to shoot everybody.' He [Alandis] was wrong, he should never have taken it to school. And I told him that. And he's being punished" at home. "But also on the other side of the coin, I think it's a travesty what's happened to him.... For them to say that's he's made terroristic threats is just ridiculous. We've taken it and changed what 'terroristic threats' was meant to be for. And with children saying that 'he's got a gun, he's got a gun,' it's gotten blown out of proportion.... I don't think they handled it very well. I know it's their job, but I think they took it to the extreme."

Sherri Viniard, the Director of Public Relations for the Newton County School System, emailed a statement to 11Alive News Thursday that reads, in part:

"Student safety is our primary concern, and although this was a toy gun, it is still a very serious offense and it is a violation of school rules. We will not tolerate weapons of any kind on school property."

Alandis had his first hearing in juvenile court on Thursday. Tosha said the case worker assigned to Alandis will recommend a period of probation, rather than juvenile detention. The judge will make the final decision.

Tosha said Alandis is not allowed back in school for now. She has a meeting scheduled with school administrators. She does not know if he will be expelled, and is hoping for no more than a ten-day suspension.

"A toy gun is a toy gun," Lt. Mitchell said, "to be played with and for kids to have fun with. But when kids use it the wrong way, just like anything, then it can be scary."

And that's the crux of the dispute about the "terroristic threats" charge, whether Alandis purposely did anything to scare anyone, or whether other children over-reacted at the sight of his toy gun.

For the record, Alandis knows what he wants to be when he grows up -- a police officer. And that hasn't changed.

"You know, he's a 10-year-old little boy who wants to be a police officer," Tosha said. He also has "little walky-talkies and stuff, because they like to play police and recon."

Innocence of child's play now lost, she says, no matter what the outcome of the case is.

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