Terrified of bullying from gangs, an East Texas teen claimed as his rationale for bringing a backpack handgun into high school last week. The teen’s mother confirmed the motivation. “Safe school” policies resulted in his arrest for unlawfully carrying a weapon in a prohibited place.
Longview police officers took Jacorian Harris, 17, into custody Wednesday after he self-reported the gun to one of his Longview High School teachers. Harassment and fear of gangs on campus was behind Harris having a gun in the first place, his mother, Ronder Montgomery, told the Longview News-Journal.
School district spokeswoman Sarah LeBus said Harris voluntarily told a teacher he inadvertently brought the handgun to school in his backpack. Harris informed this teacher once he “realized he had the gun in his backpack” according to Lebus. “The teacher then reported the firearm to the student resource officers.”
Longview police questioned the teen, described by hi mother as a “good kid” who gets “good grades.” Officers arrested and booked him into Gregg County Jail on a charge of unlawfully carrying a weapon in a prohibited place, a third-degree felony that carries up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000, if convicted. He also received a three-day school suspension. Harris was released from jail on $10,000 bail to his mother’s custody.
Although the Longview newspaper indicated the handgun was loaded, Longview Police News did not. Police only identified the firearm as a revolver. A Longview Independent School District (ISD) administrative hearing will follow the police investigation, said Lebus.
Principal James Brewer did not place the school on lockdown at the time of the incident. He explained his decision in a recorded message to parents and staff. “Because this student actually self-reported himself and there was no ill intent, I did not feel that it warranted a call. There was no danger or incident. The gun was confiscated immediately.”
The school district’s Assistant Superintendent of Administrative and Pupil Services Jody Clements told the Longview newspaper he was unaware of Harris’ strong concerns with gangs on campus. Gangs are a growing concern in East Texas. Earlier this month, Longview Mayor Andy Mack said that the city has a gang and drug problem following 12 homicides and concerns over gang activity throughout Gregg County. Gang activity also spilled over into neighboring Upshur County. According to Longview Police Chief Bishop, law enforcement is teaming up with the Gregg County Sheriff’s Office in a “countywide, multi-agency approach” to investigate suspected gang activity.
Previously, Longview police gang specialist Detective Lanie Smith told the News-Journal: “Gangs often rely on recognition, fear and intimidation to promote their own agendas,” Smith said. “For this reason, we choose to not publicly recognize any particular gang that may be operating in or around the Longview area. Longview is not immune to gang activity, and the Longview Police Department recognizes that fact.”
It remains unclear why Harris brought a gun “out of fear” and then told a teacher, said Lebus. “I think there’s probably a deeper reason as to why,” she added. “But, I think there’s probably a reason he had the gun, and he offered it because he didn’t know what … to do with it.”
As for Harris’ fate, Clements told the Longview newspaper the state grants schools more leeway in handling weapons-on-campus decisions these days. “It used to be, if you drove up and had a gun in the car you were expelled. But, it’s not like that now.”
The Longview ISD discipline plan seeks out alternatives to harsh zero tolerance policies, providing students with opportunities to change their behaviors. Longview High posts their General Student Expectations and Progressive Disciplinary Plan on the high school’s website home page at the bottom. Still, even in this district, Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code applies to school discipline and major offenses including possession of prohibited item like look-alike or actual weapons and ammunition.
These same “safe school” policies applied in September when 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed brought a clock contraption, mistaken for a hoax bomb, into an Irving high school. The teen was detained and upon investigation, no charges were filed. Mohamed dubbed “Clock Boy” served a three-day suspension for the perceived threat, although, the family decried bigotry and Islamophobia in a virulent media campaign despite a non-discrimination statement in the Student Code of Conduct handbook.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.