DA’s Office investigated 19 threats to San Diego schools in last month

SAN DIEGO – Since the shooting massacre last month at a Florida high school, at least 19 threats have been made against San Diego-area schools, and the San Diego County District Attorney’s office has charged nine juveniles in connection with those threats and menacing messages.

District Attorney Summer Stephan told the San Diego Union-Tribune that her office has investigated the 19 school threats reported to local authorities, and nine cases have been “issued” in Juvenile Court, meaning charges were filed against the accused.

In an interview with the Union-Tribune last week, Stephan said “this is the largest chunk of cases in such a short period” that she can ever remember.

According to the newspaper, the district attorney’s office under Bonnie Dumanis set up a special team in 2014 that investigates and prosecutes school threats and works to better understand the threats and the people who make them.

The nine juvenile cases are being pursued despite law enforcement finding most of the threats not to be credible.

“It’s important to realize that there are consequences to making threats,” even if there is no intent to act on the threat or its made as a joke or hoax, Stephan told the Union-Tribune.

Stephan told the newspaper that aside from the nine cases pending in Juvenile Court, others are still being investigated. Some of the incidents also have been or are being handled through restorative justice programs — which focus on rehabilitating young offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community — and other school-based outcomes.

Since the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, 18 local school have received some kind of threat, including Torrey Pines High School, which was threatened twice, resulting in the arrests of a 14-year-old freshman student and a 16-year-old non-student.

Other campuses where threats have been made are San Marcos High School, Vista High School, Ramona High School, Julian High School, Rancho Bernardo High School, La Jolla High School, San Diego High School, West Hills High School in Santee, Olympian High School in Chula Vista, Steel Canyon High School in Spring Valley and Canyon Crest Academy, Madison High School and High Tech High Media Arts in San Diego. Other campuses to receive threats are the STEAM Academy in Spring Valley, Rincon Middle School in Escondido, the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts and Innovation Middle School in San Diego.

The kind of threats reported at these campuses recently, including menacing messages on social media or left on campus property — like graffiti threats found at Rancho Bernardo High School — are usually charged as felonies under state law. To be guilty of making a criminal threat, a prosecutor does not have to prove that the offender intended to carry out the threat, only that the person wanted to place someone else in fear and did so successfully.

Stephan told the Union-Tribune that not all of the recent threats meet those elements of the law. The district attorney also said if a minor is charged with making a criminal threat, and the charged is found to be true, the case can be resolved in a number of ways, including informal probation, restrictions on social media usage and time in custody. Judges can also order the offender to undergo mental health treatment, if appropriate.