Sheriff rebukes judge's decision to drop school threat charges

Criminal charges against boy, 15, found with plans dropped

GLEN ST. MARY, Fla. – Baker County’s sheriff is showing his displeasure after a judge dropped charges against a 15-year-old accused of threatening a mass shooting at Baker County High School.

That teen, who wasn’t identified because of his age, was arrested last month. However, last week a circuit judge in Gainesville dropped all the charges against the will of prosecutors.

Judge Gloria Walker, from the 8th Judicial Circuit, said the law did not allow her to go forward with charges against the young man during a bench trial.

Sheriff Scotty Rhoden disagreed, saying the judge misinterpreted the statute.

“We were able to get this young man, get him and interview him,” Rhoden told News4Jax. “We made an arrest and for it to go to the court system like that and be dropped, it’s very disappointing.”

Investigators confiscated the boy’s notebook and found a disturbing narrative. On one page was written: “Kill the first responders first.” On another page, it reads: “There will most likely be chaos. You will kill as much as you can before the other teachers and students notice.”

The sheriff said the threats seemed credible.

“We felt he was very much a threat. Since I’ve been here at the Sheriff’s Office, for many years, I’ve never seen anything as detailed and as much thought process," Rhoden said. "When we read the notebook, it was very troublesome."

Rhoden said there were guns in the boy’s home, but his parents said they were kept in a safe place and away from him.

Community members told News4Jax they were outraged the boy was let go without criminal charges.

“I can’t believe it,” said Paul Arnold, whose grandson is a senior at the school. “It’s hard to believe.”

“You're never going to think that it’s going to happen where you are,” said Paula Arnold. “And then to find out what the outcome was, it’s a little bit disturbing.”

“Anybody you talk to is very upset,” Vicki Jammes said. “Especially with all the shootings that are going on now. Very upset.”

By law, school leaders are not allowed to publicly comment on the situation, but they are discussing it internally. News4Jax has learned that next week they’re planning to hold a meeting to talk about what they’re going to do next.

“I don’t know what should’ve happened, but it should’ve been taken a lot more serious," Paula Arnold said.

The sheriff said he and prosecutors plan to appeal the ruling and that he is working with the state’s attorney general.

A judicial assistant for Judge Walker told News4Jax Wednesday that the judge was not able to comment on the case.

About the Author:

Vic Micolucci

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 9 a.m. weekday newscast and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.