Guest editorial: In PCHS pepper spray case, the sentencing doesn’t fit the crime

F. Joseph Feely III
Park City

Saturday’s article in The Park Record about the sentencing of the Park City High School senior who released pepper spray in the school’s lecture hall on April 1 to prevent a conservative school club from hosting an event raises questions about the adequacy of the punishment imposed by 3rd District Juvenile Court Judge Elizabeth Knight and the treatment of this matter by the Park City School District. The 18-year-old student, who was 17 at the time of the incident, admitted to criminal mischief, a third-degree felony, and to two counts of assault and one count of disrupting a meeting, which are class B misdemeanors. Judge Knight sentenced the student to 100 hours of community service, ordered him to write an essay on civility, and a letter of apology to Trent Jarman, the school’s resource officer who attempted to identify the substance. He is ordered to pay the lecture hall clean up costs and the insurance co-pay of the individual who was hospitalized because of the spray. Victim mediation is also available.

This is a lenient sentence that fails to properly compensate all of the injured parties. I don’t understand why the insurance company which paid most of the costs of the hospitalized individual was not reimbursed, and I would like to hear Judge Knight’s explanation for that omission. Also, emergency vehicles were dispatched, and costs incurred by the city as a result of this incident that should be reimbursed. There is also the issue of providing compensation for inability to use the lecture hall while it was being cleaned and restored to service. In addition to costs that need reimbursement, letters of apology should be required to be sent to the many injured individuals and to the conservative club, and their injuries haven’t been compensated for by the court.

Another disturbing aspect of this event is the failure of the school district to clearly state what consequences there are for students who engage in violent acts that injure others on school property or if any disciplinary action was taken in this case. The school system needed to take immediate action to protect the other students from other dangerous actions by the offending student. It isn’t clear that adequate action was taken to provide such protection, like a suspension of the student while he underwent a psychiatric evaluation. This incident should be used by the school system as a teachable moment to help students understand why it should have not occurred and should be condemned as immoral behavior.

One final matter to be addressed concerns the lame excuse by the student that he disrupted the conservative meeting because he “didn’t feel as though it was a very safe thing for a lot of our students to really have in our school…” Where did he get the ridiculous idea that his violent act would make things safer? Was this something he learned at Park City High School, or did this foolish justification come from somewhere else? It is hard to respond to this kind of intolerance without knowing its source.

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