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Registered: 07/26/04
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2nd-grader found with marijuana on bus [FL]
    #4541934 - 08/16/05 12:44 PM (12 years, 10 months ago)

2nd-grader found with marijuana on bus
August 16, 2005 - sptimes.com

ST. PETERSBURG - Pinellas school bus driver Mary Long was nearing the end of her route Monday morning when she noticed some commotion behind her.

She turned around in time to see a 7-year-old boy showing a small plastic baggie to other children.

It turned out the baggie contained 2 to 3 grams of marijuana.

The child, a 74th Street Elementary second-grader, told Pinellas County Schools police that he didn't know the bag was in his pocket until he pulled it out. Police returned the child to family members, and school officials will decide how to discipline him.

"I don't know how one could assume even for a moment the child understands the consequences of his behavior," school superintendent Clayton Wilcox said. "I'm sure this is just a little kid trying to be cool. In some ways, this is more of a family issue than a crime."

The boy cooperated with school police officer Barbara Baugher and was never restrained. He told her that no one in his home uses marijuana but that he has seen his 14-year-old brother, who lives with his grandmother, use it.

After she spotted the baggie, Long took the child to a district bus compound on 49th Street S and continued her route to school. A bus supervisor stayed with the child until Baugher arrived.

The boy told Baugher he lives in a motel with his mother, who had just gotten out of jail. He couldn't name the motel and wasn't sure how long she had been in jail, but recalled visiting her at Christmas.

"Are you going to be in trouble?" Baugher asked the child.

He nodded his head yes and started to cry.

A check of school records showed the child had been living with his aunt, Patricia Bingham, and her fiance, Joe Oliphant. Baugher dropped the boy off at their house, where Oliphant told her that he and the child's aunt had cared for the boy until about a week ago, when his mother came for him. He assumed the boy and his mother were living at the child's grandmother's house.

Baugher referred the boy to a juvenile arbitration program. She did not arrest him because of his age and because of the small amount of marijuana involved. The boy and his family will be able to get counseling and other services through the court-sponsored program, Baugher said.

"By law, we could take him to the juvenile assessment center, but does that make sense?" she said. "I look at him basically as a victim."

Police records show that the child's mother was charged in 2002 with several counts of cocaine possession and marijuana sale and delivery. She served 21/2 years in state prison and was released June 1.

The juvenile arbitration program will divert the child from the juvenile justice system, said Sgt. Richard Roseberry of schools police. Even if the incident had involved an older child, it is unlikely an arrest would have been made unless the amount of marijuana was 20 grams or more, enough to constitute a felony, Roseberry said.

"It's my personal belief we need to work with children rather than taking the easy way out, which would have been arresting the child and dropping him off at the (juvenile detention facility)," he said.

Roseberry said the school police did not immediately alert the Department of Children and Families because the officer could not determine if the child picked up the marijuana at his home.

Five Pinellas elementary school children were found in possession of drugs last year, and none was arrested, Wilcox said.

School administrators will determine what happens next, Wilcox said. The child could be suspended.

"There will be consequences for this young person I'm sure," he said.

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