DA's hands tied in many school gun cases

March 4, 2013 5:15:07 PM PST
Charges never stuck in three local cases involving guns at schools. So did officials overreact?

The three cases all involved perceived school threats, and they all made headlines recently. HISD tutor Charita Kemp was facing charges for having a loaded gun in a car parked outside Fondren Middle School last month until her case was dismissed. And just last week, police found a shotgun in a 17-year-old's car parked at Tomball High School. His case was also dropped.

All schools have their own policies regarding guns on campus. Workers in the Harris County District Attorney's Office tell us their hands are tied when it comes to prosecuting some of these cases.

"You have to keep people safe. That's the number one goal of law enforcement, of this office," said Sara Marie Kinney, a spokesperson for the DA's office.

In the controversial cases against Kemp and the Tomball teen, criminal charges were initially accepted only to be dismissed later. We asked Kinney to explain the rationale.

"I think it's more of an air on the side of caution type situation," she said.

Kinney says schools are sensitive areas of public safety, but explained that charges in those cases were dismissed due to a caveat in state law about guns near schools.

"In that same statute that prohibits the weapons on a school premise, it defines premise excluding a parking lot," Kinney said.

Tomball Police Department Captain Rick Grassi investigated the teen who was initially charged with carrying a weapon in gun-free school zone last week.

"In this situation, we are going to continue to talk to the Harris County District Attorney's office to make sure everybody's on the same page with these laws," Grassi said.

And then there was the case against 18-year-old student Derrick Montelongo. He was initially arrested for vandalizing a wall in a Kingwood High School bathroom wall back in December and then charged with exhibiting a firearm.

"There was an exhibit of a firearm," Kinney said. "The student had made several drawings with threats."

A grand jury did not indict Montelongo on the charge of exhibiting a firearm.

Kinney and Grassi say law enforcement agencies and citizens concerned about loopholes in these types of laws should discuss them with state lawmakers.

"If this is a threat that Harris County would like to address, they'd have to do so at the state capitol," Kinney said.
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