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DA: Teen took guns, ammo to school

Several photos taken from Snapchat that investigators say show Daniel Acuna with guns and drugs. (Source: 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A 16-year-old boy was arrested on Tuesday after school officials reported finding guns and ammunition in his vehicle at a Southwest Albuquerque high school. Authorities say an anonymous tip led to the discovery, along with a trove of Snapchat videos of the teenager flashing guns and drugs.

Daniel Acuna, a sophomore at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School, is charged with unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon on school premises and unlawful carrying of a handgun by a person under age 19.

Special Master Ted Martinez denied the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s motion on Thursday to keep Acuna behind bars until trial. The state then requested Acuna be placed on house arrest, but Martinez released him to pretrial services on a curfew and random drug testing.

“We are reviewing all of our options, including filing an appeal,” District Attorney’s Office spokesman Michael Patrick said Friday.

Diana Garcia, head of the DA’s Juvenile Division, acknowledged that Acuna has no prior criminal history but called the ruling to release him “discouraging.”

“This just seems to fly in the face of what the public would want and keeping the public safe,” she said. “It is just really discouraging that there would be a finding by a judicial officer that a person who had two loaded guns on school grounds didn’t pose a substantial risk.”

An image from a video of social media posts compiled by the District Attorney’s Office that allegedly show Daniel Acuna with guns and drugs. (Source: 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office)

Garcia said there was no evidence that Acuna had fired or handled the firearms at school or had planned to use them on school grounds. Neither Garcia nor the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office knows where Acuna got the guns.

Jason Rael, Acuna’s attorney, agrees with the DA on one aspect of the case.

“The DA is absolutely right when she says there is no evidence this child had plans or the desire to harm anyone,” he said in a statement. “Even though there might be a reflex to associate this with school shootings, there is no evidence this child wanted to harm anyone or had any sort of plan to do so.”

Rael went on to call the case against Acuna a “nonviolent allegation.”

“This child’s never been in trouble before. He was on track for graduation,” Rael said. “The judge listened to all the evidence presented and made the correct decision.”

Connor Otero, a Bernalillo County sheriff’s spokesman, said Albuquerque Public Schools police contacted BCSO about a student having a gun on campus. He said school officials searched Acuna’s vehicle and found two guns before BCSO took over the investigation and arrested the teen at school.

APS sent a letter to the Atrisco school community, stating that the student – later identified as Acuna – faces “appropriate school discipline,” which could include suspension or expulsion.

“School safety is a community responsibility, and we encourage people to come forward when they learn of possible threats to our students and staff,” Principal Irene Cisneros says in the letter.

Monica Armenta, a spokeswoman for APS, said she couldn’t discuss Acuna’s past disciplinary records.

Garcia said the inquiry was sparked by an anonymous tip about Acuna posting videos to Snapchat of him firing weapons out of a car window.

“This caused concern for school authorities,” she said. “A search was done, and ultimately they found a Glock 30 and Glock 35 in his automobile, and there were also two loaded magazines.”

Kyle Hartsock, of the DA’s Crime Strategies Unit, said Acuna had been on their radar for some time, and they recognized him after the arrest.

“We had found several social media videos that show him and other potential juveniles with these firearms, multiple other guns, including rifles,” he said. “… Selling the firearms, selling narcotics online. This wasn’t just a one time ‘whoopsie’; this was a culture and constant behavior that appeared to be ongoing, at least for some time.”

The DA’s Office released a collage of Snapchat videos that allegedly show Acuna firing a gun out a car window while driving. In the video Acuna is also seen showing off other guns – including an AK-47-type rifle – drum magazines and drugs.

Garcia said there is a focus on juvenile gun violence this year as the number of teens charged in firearm-related crimes hits alarming numbers.

Last year, she said, the DA’s Office filed 33 petitions against juveniles in gun-related crimes. This year, they have filed 16.

“Adolescents having guns is very concerning. They’re in a difficult developmental stage … more prone to reckless behavior, to taking chances, to being impulsive,” Garcia said. “So you add all that together and toss in two loaded guns and that, I believe, is a public safety concern.”

Five years ago, she said, youthful offender cases made up about 2% of the Juvenile Division’s caseload before creeping up to 4%, then 7% in 2019. It now stands at 33% for 2020.

“This is not just a hot topic, it is a serious concern that the public needs to be aware of,” Garcia said. “I’m hoping that it’s an anomaly but, the way that they’re rolling in, it is disturbing.”

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