Camas High sees police visits spike

Five incidents over three weeks include report of student with handgun

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In a three-week span between Jan. 12 and Feb. 1, Camas police officers responded to five different incidents involving Camas High School students.

Four of the incidents — including a report of a teen bringing a semi-automatic handgun to class in a backpack — happened within one week.

School Resource Officer Jason Langman, who covers the entire Camas School District but is stationed primarily at the high school, responded to two of the five incidents.

Three of the incidents resulted in referrals to Clark County juvenile court. One incident ended with two boys being suspended from school.

Three of the incidents involved drugs or alcohol on campus. One was related to a locker room fight following a theft allegation.

The fifth incident, a case in which two students said a 15-year-old boy had shown them a semi-automatic handgun with a magazine clip inside his backpack, was suspended after officers said there was “insufficient evidence to make an arrest.”

Following are details of the incidents from Camas police reports obtained through public records requests.

Due to the fact that all of the reports involve minor suspects and minor witnesses, the names of the Camas students have been withheld.

  • Weapons violation investigation: On Jan. 12, Camas police officer Tim McNall responded to the home of a 911 caller, who said a Camas High student had brought a semi-automatic handgun to school the previous day.

According to McNall’s police report, two girls reported their classmate, a white, 15-year-old male Camas High student, had told them during a Jan. 11 class he “had something illegal” in his backpack, before allegedly opening the backpack and showing the girls a “black, semi-automatic handgun.”

The girls told McNall they had looked for signs that the handgun was a toy, but did not see an orange tip. They also reported the gun had a magazine attached “because there was no open space in the handle.”

The girls said the boy had not threatened anyone and never took the gun out of the backpack. One of the girls said she had dated the boy for just one day, but had broken up with him that evening due to the “gun incident.”

McNall reported “both girls said they wanted to say something to someone on Friday (Jan. 11), but they didn’t have a chance because the portable (classroom) is too small and (the boy) would have heard them tell (the teacher). They said he kept the backpack close to him and after class followed them until they got on the (their) buses.”

When asked if the boy had a history of violence, the girls said he had posted photos of knives on Instagram, and had been seen with a “makeshift weapon made with a nail of some kind … later described as a large construction type nail that has a rubber stopper on it to be held between the fingers.”

According to police report, McNall and Camas Police Sgt. David Chaney went to the accused boy’s home after talking to the girls on Jan. 12.

When the officers told the boy’s mother about the weapons allegations, “she immediately walked over to the dining room table where (the boy’s) backpack was and started looking through it. No gun or weapons of any kind were in the backpack,” according to McNall’s report.

The boy told police he had several toy guns, but denied having access to real firearms.

According to McNall’s report, the boy was “so adamant about not having a gun and denying that he showed anybody the inside of his backpack,” McNall and Sgt. Chaney decided to re-interview the teen girls who had reported the incident.

“Both girls had a look of surprise on their faces when I told them we did not find the gun,” McNall stated in his report. “Both were adamant that (the boy) had showed them a handgun and said they would pass a polygraph.”

Sgt. Chaney, in his report, stated the boy claimed he had a video game controller in his backpack and recalled searching his backpack for something during the Jan. 11 class, and saying something such as, “Oh no, I hope I didn’t bring my Nerf gun to school.” Chaney also stated in his report that the accused boy “continued to maintain he did not have any type of weapon” and believed the girls were “trying to get him in trouble because they (were) mad about the break-up.”

“At this time, there is insufficient evidence to make an arrest,” Chaney stated in his report.

McNall agreed, writing in his report: “At this point, it is unclear who is telling the truth. There is no probable cause to charge (the boy) with a crime at this time.”

  • Drug and alcohol investigations: Police responded to the high school for three incidents involving either drugs or alcohol on Jan. 15, Jan. 16 and Feb. 1.

On Jan. 15, Langman was working at Camas High School when a school security officer informed him that a white, 14-year-old male student had been found with vodka in a water bottle during his third-period class.

The teacher had confiscated the water bottle and immediately reported the incident to Camas High’s associate principal, according to the police report.

Langman said the 8-ounce bottle was one-third full with a clear liquid that appeared to be vodka.

According to Langman’s report, the boy admitted he had poured vodka into the bottle, brought it to school and drank it alone in the school bathroom.

Langman forwarded the case to the juvenile prosecuting attorney for charges of minor in possession. The resource officer also stated in his report that he had talked to the school’s drug and alcohol counselor about the boy and that the counselor was going to set up an appointment with the teen when he returned to school.

The Jan. 16 and Feb. 1 incidents both involved reports of students possessing marijuana on campus.

On Jan. 16, Camas police officer David Peters responded to a report that three Camas teens had been found in a car inside the high school parking lot by a school security monitor, who had smelled marijuana and later found marijuana in the vehicle.

According to Peters’ report, the three suspects — all white males ages 14, 15 and 16 — were discovered by the school’s security monitor and dean of students inside a student vehicle parked in the school parking lot.

The two school officials, according to the police report, searched the vehicle and found a “plastic baggy containing marijuana under the passenger side rear seat and a loose piece of marijuana bud in the driver’s seat” as well as “several Juul brand vaporizer cartridges and a Bic lighter that was inside an Altoids mints container.”

The report states the officer entered 12.2 grams of marijuana into evidence.

On Feb. 1, officer McNall responded to a report of a 17-year-old, white male student had been found with a small amount — 0.3 grams — of marijuana and a glass smoking pipe in a camera bag he had brought to school.

Although recreational marijuana use is legal in Washington state, it is illegal for minors under the age of 21 to purchase, possess or use marijuana.

Officers forwarded both marijuana related cases to the prosecuting attorney’s juvenile office for “minor in possession” charges.

  • Theft investigation: According to police reports, Langman was working at Camas High on Jan. 17, when a staff member told him two teen boys had just fought inside the boy’s gym locker room.

Langman said the fight stemmed from a theft allegation, in which a 15-year-old white male student accused a 14-year-old black male student of stealing his $100 iPhone AirPods from the boys’ locker room the day before.

When Langman questioned the 14 year old, the boy told him the 15-year-old involved in the fight had approached him at school and accused him of stealing the AirPods. The 14-year-old told Langman the older boy was “in his face,” and so close he spit on the younger teen, according to the police report.

The teen accused of stealing the wireless earbuds told the school resource officer he had walked toward the boy’s locker room to get away from the older teen, but that the 15-year-old boy and his group of friends followed.

The younger boy said the older teen “pushed him, then punched him in the face, hitting his bottom lip,” according to the police report.

Langman said he didn’t see any injuries to the boy’s bottom lip.

The 15-year-old told a slightly different story to the school resource officer. He alleged the 14-year-old had stolen his AirPods the day before, and that he had confronted the younger boy in the “commons area.” Asked by Langman why the 15-year-old hadn’t gone to the school resource officer, who also was in the commons area at that time, the older teen didn’t respond.

The 15-year-old said he followed the younger teen to the locker room because he thought the boy was returning his AirPods. Instead, the older teen told Langman the 14-year-old asked him, “Do you want to fight?” inside the locker room, and then “punched him on the left side of his face.”

Langman stated in his report the 15-year-old’s left cheek was “slightly red” and “the fight didn’t last very long before friends broke it up.”

Langman reported that, after viewing a surveillance video of the locker room entrance, it appeared the younger boy “didn’t have anything in his hands,” and the officer stated “there is no probable cause for an arrest due to the amount of individuals coming and going from the locker room.”

Both boys were suspended from school for fighting and released to their parents.

School resource officer reflects on cluster of reports

The five students referred to the juvenile prosecuting attorney’s office in the three-week period between Jan. 15 and Feb. 1 represent roughly one-quarter of 1 percent of Camas High’s student body.

That number is just a little less than the percentage of Washington state public high school students referred to the police or juvenile courts during an average year.

According to a 2017 Education Week report, Washington state schools referred about 0.3 percent of high school students to the police or courts and arrested another 0.056 percent of students at school during the school year used in the research — the 2013-14 school year.

Langman said five incidents involving Camas High students over the course of three weeks seems higher than normal.

“It does appear to be kind of a busy month for police activity at the high school,” Langman said Tuesday about the cluster of police reports at Camas High in mid- to late January. “I’m not sure if that’s just circumstance … just kids getting caught by teachers who are aware.”

The number of drug and alcohol incidents didn’t surprise Langman, however.

“I’d say that’s consistent,” he said. “I know there are drugs in the school. Vaping seems to be the big problem with schools, especially in some middle schools. It’s just so easy for juveniles to get.”

Langman said marijuana continues to be a problem at the schools, but that he doesn’t usually see harder drugs.

As for fighting, Langman said most of those cases are between younger high school males, between the ages of 14 and 16, but that many students have been “good about protecting themselves and being willing to stop the fight.”

Langman said he has personally followed up on the Jan. 12 report involving the alleged gun in the backpack.

“I have talked to that individual at least once a week since then,” Langman said. “We weren’t able to find anything at his residence … and the parents were all willing to cooperate and assist in that case.”

Steve Marshall, the school district’s director of educational resources, agreed the number of incidents involving Camas High students was high for less than one month’s worth of time.

In talking to officer Langman, this was an unusual month,” Marshall said. “There are months with little to no police calls.”

Marshall said one factor contributing to the higher-than-normal number may be the way the Camas Police Department responds to drug and alcohol calls.

“Some police departments do not arrest for alcohol and marijuana infractions,” Marshall said.

As for the report of the gun in the backpack, Marshall said district administrators take those types of reports very seriously and have plans in place for responding.

“Though very rare, any report of a weapon in our schools is handled swiftly and thoroughly,” Marshall said. “This response includes police involvement and an emergency expulsion of the student, pending the outcome of an investigation.”

If the Jan. 12 report had been substantiated, Marshall said, Camas High administrators would have enacted a “threat assessment protocol” involving teachers, school counselors and an administrator as well as police, community agencies and the student’s parents or guardians.

“The threat assessment includes questionnaires, a team meeting and, if permanently expelled, a re-entry plan for the student, which could involve ongoing monitoring and behavior expectations,” Marshall explained.

Part of Langman’s job as a school resource officer (SRO) involves continually checking in with students and keeping abreast of at-risk youth.

Now in his first full year as an SRO, the 15-year police veteran had high praise for the Camas School District.

“Everybody says how great the Camas schools are, and they really are nice,” Langman said. “Our administration is great and the principals work really well with the kids.”

The officer said the majority of administrators, counselors and teachers in the district seem very aware and in touch with the students.

“They’re in tune and listening,” Langman said. “That’s probably why we have the number of reports we do.”

Still, he said, having not looked at the rest of the year’s statistics, the four reports in four days does seem higher than normal.

“Sometimes when it rains, it pours,” Langman said.

Editor’s Note: The online version of this article was updated on March 7, 2019, to include statements from a Camas School District representative.