Thursday, June 28, 2007

Janet Difiore.

The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg

Hendrick Hudson High Seniors Arraigned on Felony Charges
Cortlandt Town Court, Cortlandt Manor
Town Justice Gerald Klein Presiding


Last Monday morning 19 seniors from Hendrick Hudson High School in Montrose appeared in Cortlandt Town Court for arraignment before Town Justice Gerald Klein, the result of a ‘senior prank’ that somehow garnered a more harsh reaction from the school administration, and police, than the kids had anticipated. The prank, involved some 67 inexpensive wind-up, butterfly shaped, alarm clocks that were all set to ring at the same time, the previous Monday morning. They had been planted all over the high school, on walls, and in lockers, held in place with duct tape, by students who had gotten into the school late Sunday night, June 10th. Picked up on motion detectors, their activity quickly brought police with bomb sniffing canines to the school. The youngsters, all charged with 240.61 of the Penal Law, Placing A False Bomb or Hazardous Substance, a Felony, were accompanied to court by their attorneys, their parents and other family members, as well as several uncharged schoolmates, who had come to support them.

Despite the large turnout, Justice Klein managed to quickly complete the arraignment proceedings for all but two of the youngsters, who had failed to bring legal representation, and, who required assigned counsel. Following the arraignment, a group of six seniors, young men and women who had come to support their classmates, told The Guardian, “Nobody could have taken the butterfly alarm clocks seriously. They weren’t made up to look like bombs, or anything dangerous. They were just supposed to ring at the same time.”

A mother of one of the charged students, who had just come from the courtroom, seemed to express the sentiments of several parents, declaring, “They’re not punishing the kids; they’re punishing us. We had to go out and hire lawyers, and lose time from work. They’re over-reacting to what they, (the kids) did.”

White Plains Attorney Peter Goodrich, a former Westchester Assistant District Attorney, who represents one of the charged students, told The Guardian, “It was a total over-reaction to have charged these youngsters with a felony once they discovered they were harmless clocks. They knew there was no malicious intent, just a senior prank.”

Proceeding to the high school, The Guardian met with Youth Resource Officer Velez, a New York State Trooper, who indicated that he knew the students. He told us, “They are good kids. They just made a poor decision.”

Analysis

Most observers are in agreement that the youngsters involved in the Hendrick Hudson High senior prank have been over-charged and dealt
with too severely. Given the fact that there was never any attempt to imply that there were bombs, or any explosive devices, but merely to have the alarm clocks all going off simultaneously on Monday morning, it is apparent that there was really no malicious intent. Furthermore, the fact that those involved voluntarily turned themselves in and, also, that classes were conducted Monday morning, June 11th, without interruption, should have mitigated for a lesser charge.

The students involved will not be allowed to attend their graduation ceremony, a painful consequence in itself. Perhaps a better course of action might have been to couple their absence from their graduation with a mandated forty hours, or so, of community service.

Hopefully, District Attorney Janet DiFiore may be persuaded to reconsider the impact that having been charged with a felony will have upon the future prospects of so many basically decent kids, and will opt for the more constructive, and reasonable, community service approach. Surely, no good purpose can be served by causing so much more in the way of judicial, prosecutorial, and parental resources, to be expended, than has already been, should the District Attorney’s Office persist in its pursuit of felony charges against these youngsters.

After all, had the same prank been attempted just six years ago, prior to 9/11 and, prior to some of the high school and college incidents that
have spawned the hyper-reactive mentality with which many now approach any departure from routine at any public gathering place, these
kids, now facing felony charges, and 1½ to 4 years in prison, would merely be experiencing the embarrassment of having had their senior prank foiled, and the pain of missing graduation.

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