Huron County Sheriff Dane Howard said he's "deeply concerned" about the lack of timeliness in reporting incidents within Western Reserve Local Schools.
The sheriff's comments come in light of a Dec. 13 incident at Western Reserve High School basketball game in which a 17-year-old boy is accused of pulling a knife on another student. Assistant Principal Chris Sheldon reported the allegation to the sheriff's office Dec. 16 -- three days after the suspected incident.
"They sat on it until Monday," Chief Deputy Ted Patrick said, referring to Dec. 16. "It's clear they have an obligation to report it to law enforcement."
That makes two suspected incidents in five days with similar circumstances about school officials reporting crimes.
On Dec. 17, a 14-year-old Wakeman boy told his teacher and classmates he would retrieve an AK-47 assault rifle from his residence, return to the school and kill them, authorities said. That incident wasn't reported until two days later.
Deputies interviewed Sheldon and other school officials Friday. Howard said his officers explained to them "they had a responsibility to report the incidents immediately."
"There seems to be a pattern of activity on their reporting system and I am deeply concerned about it," the sheriff said.
The high school student, who received a 10-day school suspension, is charged with aggravated menacing. He remains at the Seneca County youth detention center pending the results of a court-ordered psychological evaluation.
Howard said he plans to address the situation about timely reporting with Western school officials in a private meeting.
"I called for school officials (Monday) morning," said the sheriff, who has been unable to reach everyone due to Christmas break.
"(Western's) reporting system is in question, to say the least," said Howard, who wants to see that "behavior" changed.
Superintendent Rodge Wilson said the district is "very concerned about the timeliness of reporting."
"We do not make a habit of calling the sheriff's office every time a student is threatened," he said, because school officials determine those threats some times aren't legitimate.
However, Wilson said he is planning on meeting with the sheriff's office to make each party aware of their responsibilities so "everybody is doing what they're supposed to be doing."
The suspected knife incident happened during the Dec. 13 Western-Monroeville basketball game.
"It was reported to a deputy that a female student was threatened by a male student with a knife during a game. They were sitting together in the band," Patrick said.
First, there was an argument between the 17-year-old male suspect and a girl. A second girl came to the first girl's aid by grabbing the suspect's arm, the sheriff's spokesman said.
"That's when he pulled the knife on the second girl," said Patrick, who described the weapon as a Tac-Force knife with a black handle.
"There was a witness to this. The witness said the male suspect told the second girl if she touched him again, 'I'll kill you,'" he said. "After he threatened her, put it (the knife) back in his pocket.
"The person (who) was threatened said (the suspect) was very upset and angry towards her. She moved away and then he put the knife away. He later told her to keep her mouth shut and keep the incident between the two of them," Patrick said.
While the deputy's report indicates all three students "were all sitting together with the band," Patrick said there's no indication or mention of any adults.
"One of the female victims reported it to the assistant principal (Sheldon) at the game. But we don't receive the report the school until (Dec. 16)," Patrick said.
Reporting the incident
When asked what Sheldon told deputies about the knife incident, Patrick said the assistant principal gave "vague reasoning" about not reporting it earlier.
Wilson said Sheldon notified him "early in the week" and during the previous weekend, Sheldon had "gathered information on who was involved."
"He may have interviewed some kids," the superintendent added.
"We were made aware of that during the game. If we had known about it during the game, we would have done something," Wilson said.
Howard said his office has deputies doing "special details" at every Western game and they weren't notified of the Dec. 13 incident at the time.
As he stressed during a Reflector interview Friday about the suspected gun incident, Wilson said school officials often get information that is vague and is given to them "fourth- or fifth-hand," so they often have to question a lot of people before reporting suspected crimes to the sheriff's office.
However, the superintendent said Western officials need to report possible criminal activity to law enforcement.
Wilson was asked if Sheldon has overstepped his responsibilities by investigating allegations that should be handled by the sheriff's office.
"I don't think Mr. Sheldon is overstepping his bounds," Wilson said.
The superintendent said Sheldon, like all Western officials, are bound by board and state policies with what actions have to be taken.
"He does it very thoroughly," Wilson added.
He also said Sheldon has a duty to report suspected crimes and in this circumstance, the assistant principal handled the "No. 1 priority" and "called law enforcement when immediately available." The superintendent wasn't clear on what that priority was.
The sheriff's office will be forwarding its findings about the knife allegation to Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler's office for review.
"It's a major crime with a weapon on school property. We're not talking about just arguing," Howard said.
"I have to take steps to ensure the safety of the children and all persons," he added.
"We live in a society in which school violence is a reality. Early reporting is paramount to keeping children from getting injured," Howard said.