Palm Coast, FL - Assault charges are filed and a hate crime penalty is recommended by Flagler County's Sheriff on two Flagler Palm Coast High School students who say they were only joking when they made racial comments and threats online to murder a teacher.
Those students - a 16-year-old female and a 16-year-old male - were using their school-issued computers to trade those messages with one another at the time those comments were typed out on Monday (December 10th), according to the Flagler County Sheriff's Office.
"I was appalled at the language these students were using and the threats made toward this teacher," said Sheriff Rick Staly. "These racial tones have no place in our community. The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office has a zero-tolerance policy on school threats."
WNDB is not identifying the students at this time because neither has been charged with a felony or is being charged as an adult. Both of them are not allowed to return to the campus for the time being.
The charges were filed after detectives consulted with the teacher and she asked to press charges because she feared at least one of the students would harm her, per FCSO Chief of Investigative Services Steve Brandt.
"More serious felony charges were explored, but the facts of this case did not meet the required elements for a felony charge," Brandt added. "Because this is a misdemeanor and is not an immediate arrest exception under Florida law, a physical arrest cannot be made, so our only option was to file recommended charges with the State Attorney’s Office."
Brandt noted that those students, as far as FCSO knows, never actually threatened the teacher directly, saying that the teacher did not know about the threats until school officials told her. Those threats shook her up so much that the teacher went and bought a gun for her protection, per the charging affidavit.
That affidavit also shows the female student - who is white - wrote several times to her friend that she was in a bad mood and wanted to murder her teacher, who is African-American. She also used racial slurs repeatedly when referring to the teacher and made racially offensive jokes about African-Americans.
According to a redacted copy WNDB received of the online conversation, both teens had made plans to meet up overnight, go to that teacher's house and murder her. WNDB isn't publishing the conversation because of its offensive nature.
Those filed charges include a recommendation for an enhanced penalty because FCSO believes this situation is a hate crime under Florida law. State Attorney R.J. Larizza's office has made no formal statement on how it plans to handle the matter.
When questioned by school resource deputies, both students claimed their messages to one another were inappropriate jokes, but Staly says that kind of talk is not acceptable, especially on a school campus.
"All threats will be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated and appropriate charges will be made," Staly added. "Often, these situations take time to investigate and review the evidence before determining a charge or making an arrest."
Both students could also face additional discipline from FPCHS administrators or Flagler County Schools, according to Flagler Schools Superintendent James Tager.
"We are appreciative of the security the Flagler County Sheriff's Office provides all our campuses and our administration at Flagler Palm Coast High School continues to work with FCSO investigators in this particular case," Tager noted.