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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Student Ordered Freed After Psychiatric Stay

May 12, 1999|MASSIE RITSCH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A 17-year-old Buena High School student who had spent the previous six days in a psychiatric hospital after allegedly threatening to blow up his school was ordered released Tuesday by a judge, his lawyer said.

The brief, closed hearing was held Tuesday morning at the hospital before a temporary Superior Court judge. The youth, his parents, their attorney and a psychologist argued that while the teenager may be depressed, he is harmless.

"We had substantial evidence that he wasn't a danger to anybody, including himself and the school," attorney Louis "Chuck" Samonsky said. "[The hired psychologist] was willing to stake her career on the fact that he's not dangerous."

The youth's parents denied that any threats were made and charged that police and school officials "grossly overreacted" to a sarcastic comment in the wake of the shootings in Littleton, Colo.

"This is lunacy," the father said before the hearing. "They've invaded our privacy. They've invaded his privacy."

The high school junior was arrested May 5 on a charge of misdemeanor possession of fireworks after police received a report that he had made threatening statements to another student and said that he would blow up Buena High School.

Police pulled the youth out of class and questioned him at school throughout the day. Officers also searched his Ventura home. In his bedroom, they said, they found homemade fireworks, which bomb squad members later examined.

While interviewing the student, police, in consultation with school officials, decided he needed psychiatric evaluation, Ventura Police Lt. Gary McCaskill said.

He was taken to Anacapa Hospital, a private facility in Port Hueneme, for 72 hours. Police said they were concerned that he might harm himself or others.

Over the weekend, the hospital's psychiatrist recommended that the teenager be kept for further observation, his father said. Legally, he could have been kept there up to 14 additional days, but only with a court hearing.

After the hearing Tuesday, Judge Pro Tem David Ammons ordered him released. Ammons declined to comment on the case.

The teenager was suspended from school for five days, until Thursday, his father said. Ventura Unified School District officials would not confirm whether the student was suspended, but pointed out that making threats at school--even empty threats--and disrupting school operations are grounds for suspension.

"If a kid is making a bogus threat, it might be bogus to him, [but] it might not be bogus to the people that are hearing it," school district attorney Don Austin said.

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