A Texas teenager faces a felony forgery charge all because the $10 bill he found on the floor of his high school came up as fake cash on the lunch lady’s counterfeit testing pen when he used it to pay for a ham sandwich and chips.
Alec Hunter, 15, a student at Elkins High School in the Fort Bend Independent School District never imagined that finding a $10 bill would lead to allegations that he “engaged in delinquent conduct” or that the Fort Bend County Juvenile Court would formally charge him with forgery and “intent to defraud or harm another” in violation of Texas Penal Code, Subchapter B., Sec. 32.21.
On Monday, May 2, the teen, his parents, and brother appeared for a pre-trial juvenile court hearing over the offense defined as a third-degree felony. His father, Louis Hunter, spoke to Breitbart Texas earlier. “The day it happened my son came to me and told me about it.”
Hunter said in November 2015 Alec and his friends found $10 on the floor of the school commons area but Alec picked it up and used it as lunch money. The cafeteria worker deemed the currency counterfeit when she swiped the bill with her special pen at the cash register.
This same type of pen was used on Danesiah Neal, the Fort Bend ISD eighth grader who, last year, paid for lunch in the Christa McAuliffe Middle School cafeteria with a $2 bill from her grandmother. As reported by Houston’s KTRK 13 (ABC), school officials told Neal her money was counterfeit and she could be in big trouble but, as it turned out, the 21st Century pen could not read the 1950’s era issued bill. The $2 was real, legal tender.
However, in Alec’s case, the lunch lady turned the $10 bill over to a campus police officer, who later wanted a statement from the teen. The officer called his mother and she said “not without me present,” according to Hunter.
The family then heard nothing until January when they received a letter from the Fort Bend County Juvenile Probation Department stating Alec “was referred to our department for the offense of Forgery,” recalled Hunter, who emphasized the letter was “not served” but came by U.S. mail. He told Breitbart Texas he called the probation officer asking if Alec was being charged with anything but was only told the department wanted to do an intake on the boy.
The family also received a “Consent to Deferred Prosecution” form to sign, which essentially places a minor into the juvenile justice system through probation. If probation is successfully completed, the court dismisses pending charges. In March, the Hunter family declined to consent to deferred prosecution. The form cautioned that action could result in a court date for which they may have to obtain an attorney. To date, Alec has not been arrested.
“I know every parent thinks their kid is gold but we’ve never had any issues,” Hunter told Breitbart Texas about his A and B grade-level son who has no history of behavioral issues and no prior juvenile record. Five complimentary teacher letters served as character reference letters for the May 2 court date.
In one, Alec’s chemistry teacher wrote: “I hope and pray you will please not punish a 15-year-old so harshly that this offense will keep him from obtaining a future career. A teenager often reacts without thinking about the consequences.” She added: “In the corporate and educational careers, one serious offense can make a person unemployable.”
This is likely because college and career ready applications no longer ask if a youth was ever convicted of a crime, they ask if one has ever been charged with a crime other than a traffic offense. A juvenile’s brush with the criminal justice system creates a paper trail that, unless sealed, can potentially jeopardize a student’s future prospects.
Hunter penned an impassioned email to Fort Bend ISD Superintendent, which he later posted on Facebook, noting “…but trust me when I tell you that the ‘School-to-Prison Pipeline’ is real and in full effect.” The school-to-prison pipeline refers to the zero tolerance policies that criminalize minors’ behavior, often funneling them down an ill-fated path within a criminal justice system overly reliant on law enforcement and juvenile courts to address student misbehavior.
In an April 29 email to Hunter, obtained by Breitbart Texas, Fort Bend ISD Superintendent Charles Dupre explained the charge to prosecute Alec was accepted by the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office through an administrative referral process apparently triggered when the teen’s mother refused to have her son questioned without a parent present.
Dupre explained, in part:
“The [Fort Bend ISD] officer’s perspective matched yours, except for one key point — the officer shared that he did call to discuss this matter with Alec’s mother and that she did not permit the officer to discuss the matter with Alec to obtain his statement or perspective. In fact, he shared that she was adamant our police department would not be allowed to talk to Alec. That is why they referred the matter to the DA. It was not his desire to do that, but without any understanding of Alec’s intent, he was compelled to refer the case to the DA.
It is typical in these cases to drop any further activity quickly once we are able to visit with the student to gain a better understanding of how they obtained the bill and any intent for possessing or using it. As you would expect, the school cafeteria is where we typically receive counterfeit currency and our cafeteria workers have a standardized protocol they follow when a bill is thought to be counterfeit.
I truly regret this situation and wish we could have resolved it sooner by visiting with Alec, as this would likely have prevented the need to refer the matter to the DA.”
Breitbart Texas reached out to Dupre, who did not respond to our inquiry for clarification about the referral process he mentioned in his email. The Fort Bend ISD Police Department posted that most cases never get prosecuted because the source of the counterfeit bills are unknown.
In 2015, Breitbart Texas broke a story about the Fort Bend ISD truancy court system and the lawsuit that alleged numerous procedural irregularities including impinged student and parent due process because students were never detained but rather arrested without warrant. Students only learned of Failure to Attend School (FTAS) charges by U.S. mail.
Deron Harrington, the attorney for the ongoing truancy litigation, commented on the Alec Hunter situation calling it “another example of the cozy integration between our juvenile board, school board, and county officials to strip kids of their rights and feed the system.”
On Facebook, Harrington called for Dupre to “stop criminalizing basic school house issues.”
Hunter told Breitbart Texas that when this first happened to his son, “I thought this was ridiculous,” adding if he found a $10 bill, he, too, would pick it up. Hunter asserted this was something that could have been handled at the school level.
The Fort Bend County Juvenile Court reset the Hunters’ case for May 23. Breitbart Texas will continue to follow this story.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.