2017-08-02 / Front Page

School massacre threat called ‘fairytale’ in new court docs

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LAPEER — An attorney for one of the three teens accused of plotting a Columbine-style massacre in Lapeer claims police botched an investigation into the alleged threat, and created a “fairytale” out of nothing more than “teenage angst” expressed in fiction.

Those are among assertions made by Bernard Jocuns, attorney for one of the teens, in four motions filed in Lapeer County Circuit Court within the last week. The motions generally call into question procedural aspects of the police investigation, why so much weight was given to certain evidence and challenge the movement of the case into adult court.

“It is time to listen to the actual story instead of the government’s version of the alleged incident,” Jocuns told The County Press.

Jocuns represents a 15-yearold Mayfield Township teen who is one of the three co-defendants in the case. The other two are a 15-year-old from Metamora Township and a 14-year-old from Deerfield Township.

Each individual is charged as an adult and with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit terrorism and two counts of using a computer to commit a crime. The Deerfield teen faces a third count of using a computer to commit a crime and a count of false report of terrorism.

Each faces up to life in prison, if convicted, though Lapeer County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Sharkey has offered each a plea deal that could send the matter back to family/juvenile court. Sharkey could not be reached by press time for this story.

In exchange for entering guilty pleas as charged, the teens could, at the judge’s discretion, be sentenced as adults and placed on probation “upon the terms and conditions it considers appropriate, including any disposition available under the Probate Code.”

The deal also calls for each individual to be convicted as an adult for the charge of conspiracy to commit murder and one of the counts of using a computer to commit a crime. The remaining counts for each individual would be juvenile adjudications.

If each individual successfully completes and is discharged from probation, they will separately be allowed to petition the court to withdraw the guilty pleas entered for the charges related to conspiracy to commit murder and terrorism, and one of the counts of using a computer to commit a crime. The remaining count of using a computer to commit a crime would remain a juvenile adjudication.

However, in motions to suppress evidence, suppress statements, and quash bind over of the case to circuit court, Jocuns claims the investigation was essentially botched from the get-go.

Among other things, Jocuns says police “elicited potentially incrimination (sic) information from (the Mayfield teen) without a voluntary, knowing and intelligent waiver of his Miranda rights” during an initial interview, and “without re-Mirandizing him” in a subsequent discussion.

Jocuns claims law enforcement “are attempting to create criminal activity where none, in fact, exists.”

In the motions, Jocuns asserts the genesis of the police investigation occurred on Feb. 20 when the Deerfield teen — identified by Jocuns as the “ringleader” — contacted, via Facebook, an acquaintance who had lived in Lapeer but moved to Ohio. The Deerfield teen allegedly talked about a plan to carry out violence at school. The person from Ohio contacted another student from Lapeer, who then contacted police. The Mayfield teen’s name was mentioned in connection with the alleged plan.

Police were contacted about the messages, and “sprang immediately into action” within two hours of receiving the tip at about 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 20.

That action, according to Jocuns, including conducting a “knock and talk” at the Mayfield teen’s home at 11:30 p.m.

“The interview that the police conducted of (the Mayfield teen) in his parent’s home was a cacophony of procedural errors, and was fraught with misconduct,” Jocuns claims in the filings

A “knock and talk” is an investigative technique that involves law enforcement approaching homes in order to question the residents and win permission to search inside.

Jocuns claims police made procedural errors starting with that first “knock and talk.” He takes issue with the timing of the interrogation, noting it was nearly midnight, the family had been in bed for about two hours, and the Mayfield teen “was half asleep during the interrogation, and had no idea that he was waiving his right to remain silent — or even what the right actually was.”

“Moreover, it is also clear that (the Mayfield teen’s) sole motivation in allegedly waiving his right to remain silent was to ‘make the police go away’ and to ‘avoid being taken to jail,’” Jocuns wrote in a motion.

Further, according to Jocuns’s motion, the Mayfield teen would later tell a psychiatrist that “I didn’t feel free to leave…if I didn’t say anything it would be held against me…I assumed they’d arrest me if I didn’t talk to them.”

Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept. Det./Sgt. Robert Wells testified during a probable cause hearing that during the night of the “knock-and-talk” the Mayfield teen “admitted that he had taken part in the planning of bringing guns and bombs into the school and killing students and faculty members…they discussed the fact that this was not a joke. (The Mayfield teen) said, ‘This was not a joke. This was for real. We were really going to do this.’”

In his motion, however, Jocuns said the Mayfield teen “respectfully asserts that he never harbored any real intent to carry out the shooting, and merely ‘told the police what they wanted to hear’ during the interrogation.’”

Other issues are identified in Jocuns’s filings, too.

He takes issue with the fact that an audio recording of the interview did not commence at the start of the interview, “but is largely undecipherable.” No video of the interview exists.

Another problem, Jocuns says, is that day after the “knockand talk,” when the Mayfield teen was further questioned at the Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept. and not read his Miranda rights.

Further, Jocuns takes issue with the amount of weight given to a video introduced into evidence by Lapeer County Prosecutor’s during a May preliminary exam. (He also questions if the phone was illegally seized and searched before police had search warrants).

During the video allegedly made by the Mayfield and Deerfield co-defendants, they referenced the Columbine shooters. The Mayfield teen allegedly said he was “going after everyone who moves”, and the two discussed details about forcing classroom doors open, among other things.

Jocuns says it’s worth noting the teens were drinking alcohol when they made the video that “merely shows some early teenage boys engaging in typical teen boasting, and nothing more.” Jocuns also calls the alleged plan “a crude representation of early teenage male angst.”

Other reasons Jocuns claims evidence should be suppressed or subject to an evidentiary hearing (and cited in the motions) are:

• The search of the Mayfield teen’s electronic devices was unconstitutional.

• The affidavit in support of the search warrant failed to establish probable cause for the search.

• The affidavit was not procured until three days after the seizure of the teen’s phone.

• The “tipster” was a named, unknown juvenile who supplied only hearsay information and did not testify at the preliminary exam.

• Wells prepared the search warrant affidavit with reckless disregard for the truth.

• Wells knowingly and intentionally included false statements in the search warrant affidavit.

• The affidavit was neither made in good faith nor objectively reasonable because the police failed to authenticate the alleged threat.

“For all the conjecture-laden hysteria that (Wells) employed in order to sell the magistrate on the transparent fairytale that an attack on Zemmer Middle School was imminent when, in fact, any attack was planned, if at all, on Lapeer High School in 2020, the affidavit utterly fails to feature even one scintilla of any actual articulation of such plan,” Jocuns wrote.

“Had (Wells) or other police truly suspected that the boys were engaged in taking actual steps to accomplish an attack, surely they would have employed some type of authenticating information regarding the acquisition of firearms, the making of bombs, or the taking of similar tangible steps to accomplish their plan.”

In concluding, Jocuns says the Mayfield teen asks the court to “suppress all evidence in this matter and dismiss all charges against him” or schedule separate hearings regarding evidence.

A status conference in the case (previously scheduled prior to the recent motions being filed) is set for Thursday.

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