Gunshots Fired by Octorara’s Campus Security 

Gunshots Fired by Octorara's Campus Security

On March 29th, the Octorara Area Board of Director’s received a collective email from Dr. Newcome. There was an incident on the Octorara campus. An unwelcome trespasser was spotted. The West Fallowfield Police were called, but they were not on duty. Luckily, the armed Signal 88 security officer was ready and leaped into action. The intruder was quickly found and a foot chase ensued. The individual was about to get away. So, the security officer drew his weapon, then shot and killed the intruder.

Who was this monster who forced our security officer to use his firearm? A raccoon. It was a small, furry critter who was on our property, behind the High School and near the Agricultural Building, probably looking for food. Last year, during a similar situation, the District contacted animal control. The advice they received was to let the local police department handle the situation. From the memory of that conversation with an unnamed and unaccountable person on the phone, this year our District jumped to the decision to use our security officer as pest control and authorized the use of a firearm to handle the situation. Goodness knows how many countless lives were saved as a result. (I hope I don’t need to explain sarcasm.)

It took me a few days to process, but this was my written response:

I had to take some time to think about this. I am not comfortable with a discharge of a firearm on or near the campus to deal with a rodent. From the account, Pete and Rick were able to “shepherded the raccoon off the campus” and the animal does not seem to have been any kind of threat. Regardless of any training or experience, firing a weapon does have inherent safety risks. Ultimately, I believe this was reckless and inappropriate.

I presume, since it was not noted in the email, that parents were not made aware of this action. I believe it is important to make the public aware of what happened. Moreover, I think we need to have a public discussion about what constitutes the proper use of a firearm by our security officer. Personally, I don’t believe it is ever appropriate for the security officer to even draw his weapon without an imminent threat to students and staff.

The security officer has an intended purpose of dealing with active shooters and acts of violence. He is not there for pest control. In the kindest terms, this incident has me pissed off.

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun raccoon is a good guy with a gun.

At yesterday’s Facilities Committee Meeting, I pushed a discussion. Here are some of the details.

1. Your Right to Know – I believe the public (generally) and parents (specifically) have a right to know whenever there is an incident involving our security using his firearm, regardless of the reason. Does the rest of the Board? Obviously not. DIspite raising my concerns, the incident was not made a topic of discussion, and I had to push a conversation at the end of the Facilities Committee Meeting. The rest of the Board seemed content with letting the incident pass without making parents aware it ever happened. How about letting parents know about an incident with a possibly rabid animal? Nope… it all needs to be hush-hush.

2. The Changed Story – Keep in mind, Dr. Newcome had 8 days to reply to my email to clarify or correct his original story. He did not. Moreover, he only changed his story after I insisted on a discussion. So, what really happened? Who knows.

The email that Board Members received on March 29th stated, “a raccoon that was acting strangely was cited near the rear of the high school – near the agriculture building.” The story the Board was told last night was that the raccoon was discovered in the parking lot, and it was hissing, foaming at the mouth, and acting aggressively toward an employee. These come across as two different stories, don’t they?

Moreover, the original description of events stated that raccoon was “shepherded off the campus”. Words have meaning. One would have to think a highly educated person, like Dr. Newcome, would specifically select a word like “shepherded” with intent. The word “shepherded” means to guide or herd like a shepherd. Well, by last night, the story changed and the description was the raccoon actually stood its ground and required considerable force to move.

3. Developing a “Use of Firearm” Policy – My response to the incident stated that I thought we needed a public discussion to define the proper use of a firearm. I came to last night’s meeting with two policy examples from other school districts, one from Downingtown and the other from Pottsville.

Downingtown’s policy specifically defined the role of their officers and includes a statement not allowing them to perform other duties. The Pottsville example is a “Use of Force” that not only defines the appropriate use of a firearm but also force more generally. No other member of our Board had any interest in limiting the use of a firearm by our security officer.

4. It Is Rabies! Or Is It? – Some members of the Board stated that the shooting had to happen because of the risk of rabies, stating everyone knows that raccoons are the animals which spread the decease. We had to do it to keep the children safe. However, I cited Chester County’s website that identifies “confirmed reports of rabid rabbits, possums, groundhogs, foxes, and squirrels.” Moreover, last year’s report of confirmed cases included a cat and a cow.

Since rabies is a virus that exists in saliva and is transmitted from animal to animal by biting and/or scratching, this means it is unlikely our raccoon is the only animal in the area infected… if it actually was. What is the District doing to protect the children from rabid rabbits, squirrels, and other critters? Nothing! Does the Board want anything done to make sure other infected animals don’t present a risk? No!

The Inherent Risk

Ultimately, it is apparent that most of the Board and Administration did not want this firearm incident discussed publicly. And, when I made it a public discussion, were willing to say anything in order to move past it as quickly as possible. They don’t want parents informed whenever there is an incident with a gun. They don’t want to have a firearm policy discussion. They don’t want limits placed on our armed security or the use of force.

The one thing that we need to all keep in mind is, we went from a gun on school grounds as an extremely unlikely event to an absolute certainty. There is no shortage of news reports in which trained professionals have had accidents, made mistakes, or used poor judgment. Worse yet, there is no shortage of stories where an unarmed person was shot and killed because of a trained professional made a bad decision and used excessive force.

One one hand, our Board wants to justify the armed security guard by propagating fear of an unlikely active shooter incident. On the other, they take an it-can’t-happen-here attitude when it comes to a misuse of a firearm, the accidental shooting of a student, or the killing of an unarmed person. The argument for armed security was that if something ever happened, we would be culpable for not having armed security. But the Board is unwilling to see that they will also be responsible for an injury or death resulting from a misuse of a firearm by our security.

Regardless of whether you are for or against the armed security officer, doesn’t it make sense that we create policies that define security’s role and the use of a firearm? This is not the first incident of a raccoon on the property over the last 50 or so years. However, it is the first firearm incident with the armed security guard. Now is the time to discuss the issues that the Board did not have the foresight to address when armed security was put in place. Don’t you agree?

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25 thoughts on “Gunshots Fired by Octorara’s Campus Security 

  1. Um, didn’t anyone think to call 911 for an emergency responder once they established that West Fallowfield’s PD wasn’t available?!

  2. I thought Parkesburg PD would have been the better choice. At least they are there in the daytime. However, this is very alarming to me. There was no reason for the officer to draw his weapon on a raccoon. I believe the District needs to set some rules or general policy regarding the duties of the security guard.

  3. Why didn’t they call a local exterminator that could have dealt with the situation without the use of a firearm ? Do we know who authorize the use of the security guard to use the firearm? This now create a huge safety issue just having a armed guard in the schools. It is very apparent that the administration does not have a concept of gun safety or the role of a security guard. This proves that we should not have a security guard in our schools. Its is an outrage that the situation was allowed to happen and that the parents where not notified of the misuse of the security guard.

    • At the time of the incident, Dr. Newcome was at the CCIU. The original email and last night’s discussion suggests that the decision was made by Jeff Curtis, the Business Manager. However, I can not confirm that with 100% certainty.

  4. Was the animal’s body sent in to the health dept for testing to confirm that it was rabies? They keep track of the cases. There is a protocol that needs to be followed with the handling of the carcass. If not, then training needs to take place if this is a new duty added to the job description of the school security staff.

  5. Reading this is very upsetting to me. i really wish i knew about this i to would have been at that meeting. There was time when i was proud to say i lived in the District but lately not so much and now after reading this i am very pissed off that we as parents were not notified of the discharge of the SECURITY Guards Weapon. weather it be for an animal or a person.

  6. I’m sorry, but this just comes across as a bored security guard looking for a reason to use his gun / justify his job. And if there was truly a concern that this was a rabid raccoon then testing should have been done on it as local residents should be notified. Senseless loss of life. Yet another unilateral decision by the administration and board on what the public can have knowledge of. Shame on all involved.

  7. The Health Dept takes all suspected cases serious. I find it hard to believe they had been previously instructed to dispose of carcass without sending for testing. Having a young family member with a potential exposure 3 yrs ago who had to undergo shots, I know the health dept would have disposed and tested the brain accordingly. I am curious as to the true behavior of the raccoon. A few weeks ago, I had 2 young Octorara alumni, use a have a heart trap to capture and remove a little bandit who kept stealing cat food in the barn. The mild winter seems to have these little rascals out of sorts. Seems to me the young alumni acted more appropriately….and again, having a little 5 yr old niece undergo 3 rounds of shots, I do take rabies seriously but am upset if this were an innocent guy. If this guy was rabid, the county and state would need to know as well as anyone who may have come into contact with him..not something to be kept hidden.

  8. In the best interest for the community, I hope this report is inaccurate..for so many reasons. Hopefully, more details will emerge.

  9. Tim, the information you put out on this incident is mis-leading and only directs your readers to one conclusion which is wrong. What makes it even more irresponsible is that you are a board member and you put yourself out there as a person that pushes for the truth. Lets now give your readers the parts that are important that you conveniently left out.

    The security officer and the school officials took immediate action to get all students and staff away from the area and inside once the report of the animal was received. The animal was reported (from a teacher who saw the animal direct) to be staggering as if drunk, missing patches of fur, hissing and screaching and getting close to the teacher. Normally a raccoon is a nocturnal animal but can come out during the day,however, when coupled with the the facts listed above this is indicative of a sick animal with possible mange or rabid or both. This type of situation presents a clear and present risk of harm to students and staff. This is a situation that would fall under the job description of the armed security officer, protecting students and staff from harm.

    Tim, your version makes it sound as if the armed guard walked out the door, saw the raccoon, and just started shooting. Not the case in that the security officer was able coax the animal away from the building and once in an area where the animal could be put down (and not just to run away for another day) so as to not pose a risk to students and staff. Tim, as I explained to you at the meeting, this is the exact same way the police would have handled this situation and I say that with 24yrs of law enforcement experience to back it up. Tim you are talking about a subject with what you think you know about it and I am talking about it with what I know about it. These are two very differnet things. The security officer is not some bored ya-who looking to draw his weapon as implied by one of the persons above, he is a retired police officer with close to if not more than 20yrs of experience.

    Another point that you mention Tim is that you drove the conversation on this topic when all you did was ask if we were going to talk about it and then you gave your point of view . Tim you were advised as to where you were wrong on your points. The conversation continued and at no time did any board member offer the opinion that only raccoons are the only animals that spread rabies, You are just flat out lying about that. The board member mentioned that raccoons are normally a nocturnal animal. You also make it sound like you had to keep the conversation going because the board did not want to talk about it. Review the tape and you will be reminded how Nelson brought it up during his facility committee report before you.

    Also, please feel free to provide the rest of the board with these policies you say you had ready to go, apparently you forgot to show us. Tim and anybody else who feels this could have been handled any other way, you are wrong. This was handled in a most appropriate manner with the safety of the students and staff kept paramount.

    • Mr. Falgiatore,

      With all due respect, I don’t believe you actually read what I wrote. This is also probably why you don’t remember me bringing up those two policies. There is way more interest in defending the decision to shoot the animal than actually listening, reading, or comprehending.

      Go back and reread Dr. Newcome’s original email. If anyone would like me to publish that, I will be happy to do it. Your statement that “The animal was reported (from a teacher who saw the animal direct) to be staggering as if drunk, missing patches of fur, hissing and screaching and getting close to the teacher” was not given until I forced the conversation at Monday’s meeting. Regardless, if you actually read my post, you will see that it does provide that version of the story as well. It is intentionally deceptive to try to assert that there was only one version of the story.

      Moreover, I wrote the only reason the issue was discussed in public was because I pushed the issue. I certainly would not describe what happened after as me driving the conversation. The moment I started making my points, other members… like yourself… were right there ready to defend the action and talk right past me. That said, even you are admitting here the only reason it was discussed publically was because I brought it up.

      What was the response to me saying that parents and the public had a right to know about the shooting and a possible incident with a rabid animal? Not one Board member agreed with me that parents had a right to know… not one.

      What was the response to my concerns that Dr. Newcome’s story changed? I got eye rolls. Just as now, you all seemed content to act like the most extreme version was the only version you ever heard. But the fact is, either the original story was intentionally written to downplay the idea of a rabid animal on school grounds or the second version was intentionally designed to defend the shooting.

      How about developing a “Use of Firearm” Policy? Now, you may say that you don’t remember me bringing up my examples, but you did respond to the idea of creating a policy that would limit and define an appropriate use of a firearm. You said there was no need, that the raccoon was a safety issue and safety is the guard’s purpose, and you trusted the decision.

      And your response to my blog is a perfect example of what happens all the time… and it doesn’t matter if it is the security guard or the iPad program or building consolidation. Every single time, there is a concerted effort to talk past me or over me, and get past whatever subject as quickly as possible without digging in too deep. Defend the decision, defend the program, Tim is wrong… period.

      Well, shooting the raccoon may or may not have been the right choice, but there is a whole lot more here than just if the security officer was justified. Octorara has been around for a very long time. Small, furry wildlife is a fact of life in our area, and I am sure there have been a good number of raccoons on the property over the last 50 or so years. However, this is the very first incident with the security guard discharging his weapon.

      It is not unreasonable to think parents and the public have a right to know. It is not unreasonable to think we need a well defined “Use of Firearm” policy. It is not unreasonable to question inconsistencies in the story. It is not unreasonable to point out that having a firearm on the property adds an element of risk that did not exist prior.

      • I would appreciate you publishing Dr. Newcome’s email so that we may have all the facts available.

      • I will be happy to if and when I can get an agreement to do so. However, in the meantime, since it is an email to the whole Board, I do believe the email does fall under the Sunshine Act. Anyone who wants a copy can contact Jeff Curtis, who handles the right to know requests. They can also ask for my response (which I already published) and Mr. Falgiatore’s email as well. All you have to do is ask for the entire email conversation in your request.

      • Inconvenient. I wonder how long that will take? All interest in this will have dissipated before the next news cycle. Perhaps it might be easier to ask the good Superintendent to share it voluntarily
        Just a suggestion.

      • I sent an email to all Members and the Administration this morning stating my intention to publish the entire email conversation. This is part of the public record, and so I am not actually asking for permission. However, I am giving them the courtesy of knowing it is coming and to state their opposition if they choose. If anyone states they don’t want to conversation published, I will respect that. However, it will show their intent to obscure the facts.

      • Thank you. I don’t believe some of these board members think that the public is entitled to be informed. And not just this issue. It seems schoolboards have a way of thinking they run a fiefdom. Car in point Avon Grove. I would not like to see Octorara slip down that path.

      • Linda,

        After several emails and one phone conversation, I am afraid I will have to ask you to make a formal Right-to-Know request. I don’t completely agree with the reasoning, but I will respect the point-of-view from those I spoke with.

        Any journalist, or just some guy with a blog, can request the information and publish it in whatever form they like. However, as a Board Member, I felt it was important to get feedback before doing it. I am not willing to publish the emails without a consensus.

        Since school is closed tomorrow and Monday, that means the earliest you can request the information is Tuesday. Unfortunately, this means you will not have it until after the next Board Meeting.

      • Ok. Ok. Ok. I will file on Tuesday. Having to work for public information makes think they are trying to hide something.

    • Hi Linda,
      You may remember me as we met with Larry at Starbucks in early March. I’m one of your school board representatives for Londonderry/HIghland/Parkesburg South.

      You won’t need to file a request for information. The postings above make it appear we’re trying to hide something and that’s simply a false conclusion. This issue is getting far overblown and well beyond reason. We meet for our regular school board meeting on Monday and I expect all relevant information will be posted to the school’s website shortly afterwards. There’s been no attempt from my perspective to hide or misrepresent anything on the part of the school administration, staff, and board.

      I’d be happy to meet in person or by phone if you’d like to discuss this recent event or any other thoughts or questions you have about the school.

      Best,
      Brian

      • Of course I remember you Brian. I agree that this is getting ridiculous. A full accounting, as requested by Tim Alexander would have satisfied including sharing the emails involved. Maybe you would like to do that? The discrepancy of accounts has clouded this issue when it should have been made public immediately with a true and straightforward statement. Not being immediately forthcoming when this incident occurred causes concern regarding policies or lack of them. What did we do in these instances when there was no armed security? My main concern is the lack of information. The administration needs to publish a complete statement.
        I will be at the schoolboard meeting on Monday evening.
        Thank you for responding.

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