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Durango student may face renewed charges for alleged shooting threats

Case was dismissed in 2017, but reinstated by Colorado Supreme Court

A La Plata County juvenile who was arrested on suspicion of making school shooting threats in April 2017 may have his charges refiled after the case, previously dismissed, was reinstated by the Colorado Supreme Court on Monday.

According to court records, a male student referred to only as “G.S.S.” was arrested on April 28, 2017 for “threatening to shoot fellow students at his middle school.”

Julie Popp, spokeswoman for Durango School District 9-R, said school officials were involved in what appeared to be a direct school threat made by a student at Miller Middle School.

“The District followed protocol, which includes contacting Law Enforcement to support a thorough investigation, and, if necessary, communication to parents and/or students,” she said.

The minor had been charged with two counts: interference with staff, faculty or students of educational institutions; and attempted possession of an explosive or incendiary device.

The student was detained without bail, pending a psychological evaluation to determine if he was a risk to the community, said 6th Judicial District Attorney Christian Champagne.

“In this case, the prosecution’s concern was community safety, and we wanted a psychological assessment to make sure he was not a true risk to the community before we even looked at working with defense on bail,” he said.

Because the case involves a minor, court documents in the case are not publicly available.

Over the ensuing weeks, the juvenile was detained, yet no psychological evaluation occurred. Champagne said he could not comment as to why there was no evaluation, as that falls to the student’s defense lawyers.

Megan Ring, the public defense attorney representing the juvenile, did not respond to requests for comment.

“I don’t know why it was taking so long, I just know it didn’t happen,” Champagne said. “That’s between him, his lawyers and his family.”

Three months after his arrest, G.S.S.’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing a state statute that says juveniles held without bail must face trial within 60 days or the case could be dismissed for violating rights to a speedy trial.

La Plata County Judge Todd Norvell agreed, and dismissed the case on Aug. 22, 2017.

Norvell’s secretary said Monday morning the judge was “unavailable” for comment and transferred all questions to Eric Hogue, district administrator, who declined comment.

Soon after the dismissal, the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office appealed Norvell’s decision, filed by Deputy District Attorney-Appellate Sean Murray and senior Attorney General Joseph Michaels.

“We were of the position: The defense keeps asking for more time, so they shouldn’t be allowed to then argue we ran out of time on a speedy trial,” Champagne said.

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday issued a ruling that sides with the District Attorney’s Office, reversing Norvell’s dismissal and reinstating the case.

“In this case, G.S.S. never entered a not-guilty plea; thus, his right to a speedy trial never began to run and therefore was not violated,” the decision says. “But G.S.S. was detained for roughly three months without bail and without being tried on the charges against him, which is a clear violation of section.”

The decision goes on: “Yet because we conclude that the remedy for such a violation is to immediately hold a bail hearing and order the juvenile’s release, the trial court here erred when it dismissed G.S.S.’s case with prejudice.”

Champagne said the case will be sent back to La Plata County Court. In the next week or so, all parties will reconvene and decide the next steps.

Champagne said he’s unsure if his office will resume prosecution of the minor. First, prosecutors will look at the student’s life – whether he’s engaged in criminal activity, sought mental health treatment, etc. – before determining whether he remains a risk to the community.

“These types of allegations … scare everyone,” he said. “But I think it’s really important to also understand people change and can grow, especially from that age group, when sometimes kids say things they may not really mean or follow through on.”

Popp did not immediately answer questions about whether the student remains in the 9-R school system.

jromeo@durangoherald.com



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