Judge: Shooting outside Pittsburgh Brashear raises concerns about school police

A South Hills district judge said this afternoon that a shooting near Brashear High School in Beechview underscored his concerns about security at Pittsburgh Public Schools.

District Judge James A. Motznik asked the Allegheny County district attorney to investigate the Wednesday shooting that left three students wounded and an Oct. 18 fight that officials have said likely triggered it.

Anjohnito Willet, 16, was charged as an adult with attempted homicide and numerous other crimes after Pittsburgh Police said he shot at three students -- two of whom were charged in juvenile court after school police said they jumped Anjohnito near some lockers while a third teen watched.

Judge expresses concerns about school police

District Judge James A. Motznik says the Brashear High School shooting incident this week has raised concerns about the role of school police. (Video by Darrell Sapp; 11/15/2013)

Robert "Eugene" Minor was shot in the head, and DaJour Jones, 15, was shot in the elbow and ankle. A third student, Andrew Umphrey, 17, was also shot in the head. Andrew was not involved in the prior fight.

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane this afternoon defended the district's handling of the Oct. 18 fight and attempted robbery. She spoke of the students without directly naming them.

Ms. Lane said in a statement that Robert, DaJour and another teen who was not injured in the shooting were charged in juvenile court with simple assault, robbery, disorderly conduct and and conspiracy. She said Anjohnito did not cooperate with the investigation so school police filed the charges using witness statements and surveillance video.

Those charges are pending in the juvenile court system.

The district attorney's office confirmed Friday that Judge Motznik had contacted DA Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

"The District Attorney assured the Judge that our office will reach out and talk with individuals both in the school district and the school police department," spokesman Mike Manko said in a statement. "To call our involvement an investigation at this time would be premature and inappropriate."

Judge Motznik said his concerns began before Wednesday's shooting.

Among his concerns, he said, was a new policy the district has adopted that requires school police officers to obtain approval from their chief before issuing citations.

"We are seeing a large decline in the number of citations that are written for violations that occur in the school," Judge Motznik said. "Because of this new policy, these young women and men who are creating these problems in the schools realize that these citations are not being charged like they used to."

He said he worries that's "making situations in the school possibly more dangerous."

Statistics for cases stemming from Brashear High School are hard to track. Truancy cases and summary disorderly conduct cases would go before Judge Motznik. More serious cases, such as misdemeanors and felonies, would be processed in juvenile court. Students who are 18 or who have been charged as adults will make their way through the system in Pittsburgh Municipal Court.

Superintendent Lane said the district, in conjunction with the Education Law Center, revised its student code of conduct to more closely match Pennsylvania law.

Before that, she said, students who were caught using cell phones, dressing inappropriately or cutting class would be cited with disorderly conduct. Under the new student conduct code, they would not be cited and required to appear before a District Judge. Instead, they would be accused of disrupting the school and would be disciplined internally.

Judge Motznik also said he felt school police should refer many cases to the city police for investigation.

"The school police should turn that over to city police when someone is assaulted and robbed inside the school," the judge said.

Pittsburgh School Police are an independent police agency and have jurisdiction over crimes on school property. Pittsburgh police have jurisdiction on crimes that occur outside of it.

"The District welcomes a conversation with Judge Motznik regarding any of his concerns and will, as always, fully cooperate with any potential criminal investigation," Ms. Lane said.

In 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11, the district reported to the state more than 3,000 disorderly conducts each year, including 3,496 in 2010-11. In 2011-12, the Pittsburgh number dropped to 1,548.

In fall 2012, students from Pittsburgh Langley High School were reassigned to Brashear after Langley closed. With 1,416 students, Brashear is the largest high school in the city.

According to the state's Safe Schools report for 2012-13, Brashear did not have any gun incidents that year but did have 97 other incidents involving 138 offenders.

The list includes 47 incidents of fighting; 19 of possession, use or sale of tobacco; 13 of possession or use of a controlled substance; four of possession of a knife; three of simple assault on a student; and one of sale or distribution of a controlled substance. There were also five incidents involving a weapon other than a gun or another listed weapon as well as two thefts, two bullying incidents and one each of vandalism and criminal trespass.

There were 1,012 out-of-school suspensions and three expulsions, all for less than a calendar year.

The report said Brashear had six school security officers.

Eleanor Chute contributed. First Published November 15, 2013 11:44 AM

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