FORT PIERCE, Fla. -
Twenty Fort Pierce Westwood High School seniors face criminal charges in connection with vandalism that forced the school’s closing May 24, Assistant State Attorney Bruce Harrison said Thursday.
Names were withheld pending notification of the youths — 16 who are age 18 and four 17-year-olds, Harrison said. The State Attorney’s Office is in the middle of notifying the youths, either by phone or through court notices.
Harrison said some will be arrested and fingerprinted at the jail while others will be given a notice to appear in court, which is still an arrest but the person will not have to go through booking proceedings. A few will be handled as juveniles in the vandalism that did several hundred dollars in damage including some defaced walls and damaged bathroom pipes.
The charges for the adults include trespassing on school property and criminal mischief. Details about the juveniles weren’t disclosed.
In addition to the charges — that carry maximum 90 day jail sentences for the older youths — all will be required to pay for the damage, estimated at $300, and for the time school officials and law enforcement spent handling it, Harrison said.
That total isn’t yet tabulated, but the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office alone spent $6,700, Harrison said. Court dates have not been set.
“They have faced a consequence: working 12 years to get a diploma and they didn’t get to go through the graduation ceremony,” Harrison said. “That was a pretty good punishment. Moms and dads were heartbroken.”
Also, the school district suspended 13 seniors within days of the incident. A school spokesperson declined to comment Thursday, but Harrison said he consulted with sheriff’s and school officials, including the school district’s chief of security, about how the students would be handled.
“I didn’t hear any objections,” Harrison said.
Prosecution “sends a notice to the community that such actions won’t be tolerated,” he said.
At the same time, he said each student will be handled individually — including looking at their individual roles in the vandalism and whether they were helpful to law enforcement in pursuing the case.
The vandalism was found just before the start of school on May 24. Students and buses were turned away as teams of school custodians and sheriff’s investigators converged on the school near Fort Pierce. It wasn’t until the next day that the school opened.
Students didn’t have to do a make-up day because extra time had been built into the school year, School District spokeswoman Janice Karst. previously said.
According to Harrison, there were concerns about biohazards because school officials found a brown substance smeared around a door. That turned out to be peanut butter, he said. Also, coins were glued to floors, lettering was pulled off walls and walls were marked with chalk, Harrison said.
At the time of the incident, school officials reported that garbage cans were overturned and some bathroom piping was broken.
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