Fort Bend ISD's ham-handed probe: Kid facing jail for buying ham sandwich

FORT BEND COUNTY (KTRK) -- A $10 bill found on a school hallway could get Fort Bend ISD Elkins High School sophomore Alec Hunter years in juvenile detention.

It's more lunchroom lunacy, first reported Thursday by Ted Oberg Investigates: school police units spendings countless hours investigating small counterfeit bills used by students in lunch lines that sometimes turn out not to be fake at all.

These counterfeit charges are no slap on the wrist. It's a felony and in some cases a fake bill could move a student from the classroom into a Texas prison for two to 10 years.

Ted Oberg Investigates examined police reports between the 2013-14 school year and 2016 dealing with lunch line forgery from not only Fort Bend ISD, but Houston ISD and Cy-Fair ISD as well.

There were 40 cases in all. Cy-Fair had the most, Houston ISD the least. Alec's case is one of nine counterfeiting charges investigated against high- and middle-school students at Fort Bend ISD since the 2013-2014 school year.

There are plenty more cases like these all across Texas.

See Ted Oberg's investigation from Thursday here.

Not every case results in an arrest. Indeed, many are declined by the district attorney, but all have been investigated by police. In many cases that results in a student being sent to alternative school while the case is being investigated.

That, advocates say, is punishment in itself.

But in the case of 15-year-old Alec --an A and B student with no disciplinary problems -- Fort Bend ISD appears to be investigating him like he's a hardened criminal.

"You've got a kid, by who all accounts is a good kid," said dad Louis Hunter. "He's got letters from all his teachers, all his classes. He's never been in trouble."

Hunter is concerned about his son's future.

"There's a potential to for him to have something on his record for the rest of his life," Hunter said. "When he's 50 he's going to have to explain why he tried to buy a sandwich and chips with money he found."

Alec described the November day he found the bill.

"In the morning I was waiting in the commons, waiting for the bell to ring so we can go to first period," he said. "Once the bell rung I looked behind me and saw a $10 bill so I grabbed it. Other people saw it but I grabbed it first."

He said he had no idea the bill was fake.

"Later on that day. I tried to use it to buy a bag of chips and a ham sandwich," he said.

When he gave the $10 bill to the lunch lady, she ran a pen designed to identify counterfeit money.

"She didn't say anything to me," he said, noting that the cafeteria worker gave the bill to a school police officer.

He then paid for lunch with other money he had on him.

Two months later came the shock: "I got a paper saying I was being charged with a felony," he said.

Neither father nor son got a call from the school. The letter was from the Fort Bend Juvenile Courts.

"The letter stated that my son was referred to them for 'Forgery' and to bring a host of documents along with him for an 'intake,'"Hunter said, meaning fingerprints, mugshot, handcuffs -- the works.

Hunter said they offered Alec a deal. Simply go to counseling, behave well for six months and prosecutors would dismiss it. All Alec had to do was plead guilty.

No way, Hunter said.

"If he'd done wrong I'd giftwrap him, put him in a box and deliver him myself," Hunter said. "But that's that the case here. This was an honest mistake."

Fort Bend ISD officials had very little to say about the case. "Fort Bend ISD has its own police department whose responsibility is to investigate cases that are brought to their attention in a timely and appropriate manner," officials wrote in a statement to abc13. " In cases where there is probable cause for delinquent conduct, the cases are referred to the Fort Bend County District Attorney's office to determine whether or not a petition should be filed."

Hunter is flummoxed at the hours officials have put into a case involving a $10 bill and a ham sandwich.

"Because of a $10 bill found in a lunchroom and a sandwich and a bag of chips we've got a police officer, an assistant principal, two probation officers and DA and and a prosecutor involved," he said. "For $10... That's stupid."

Alec is due in court Monday. His dad is still looking for an attorney. The DA told abc13 they would welcome new evidence and will investigate it.
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