Saturday, May 3, 2008
By Zsombor Peter
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
It touched off a lockdown, an evacuation and a massive police response by 100 officers, a SWAT team, an armored car and a helicopter.
All for what turned out to be a prop for an enriched English project on "Hamlet."
Police responded en masse Monday after La Cueva High senior Luke Schiffer was caught on the school's security video carrying what turned out to be a cardboard cutout that looked like a gun.
The bizarre scenario was hashed out in State District Court on Friday, where Schiffer's father asked a judge to allow his son to attend graduation.
School officials had suspended him and said he wasn't allowed to participate in gradation activities.
La Cueva administrators imposed the penalty as punishment for causing the raid that disrupted classes and traumatized staff and students.
District Judge Linda Vanzi granted the father's request.
According to court documents, the cardboard gun was "present in Schiffer's (first period) class to assist creative writing and/or drama education for students."
Court testimony described the cardboard cutout as a substitute for a sword used in the Shakespeare play. Schiffer's lawyer dubbed the re-enactment "Hamlet in the Hood."
Schiffer's lawyers said he was allowed to take it with him to a later math class, and then took it with him on a bathroom break during second period.
That's when he was caught on video.
As Schiffer returned to class, an alert sounded, telling students and staff that the school was in lockdown mode.
Schiffer initially thought it was a drill, but soon thereafter he told his teacher he might have prompted the alert while walking to the bathroom with the cardboard cutout.
Students were locked in their classrooms as police secured the building.
APD officers eventually entered Schiffer's class using flash-bang grenades, which "caused physical harm to students," the petition said.
The petition also alleges that officers were abusive towards Schiffer after they took him into custody.
APS lawyers countered that Schiffer took the cardboard gun on his bathroom break to provoke a reaction.
Vanzi ruled there was plenty of blame to go around:
Schiffer for taking the "gun" with him to the bathroom.
Teacher Robert Perea for dismissing Schiffer's warning that he might have sparked the lockdown and not calling the office to check.
School security for losing track of Schiffer after suspecting him of carrying a real gun into school.
Principal Jo Ann Coffee for punishing Schiffer based on the disruption the police raid caused and a single still from the video camera that caught Schiffer's trip to the bathroom.
"An awful lot of mistakes were made," Vanzi said.
With so many parties to blame, she decided, it was unfair to single out Schiffer for punishment.
"We're glad we're dressed up in court today instead of at a funeral parlor," Schiffer's attorney, Steven Scholl, said following Vanzi's verdict.
Eddie Soto, APS Associate Superintendent for Secondary Education, said he was disappointed with the judge's decision but predicted that the district would not appeal.
APD charges against Schiffer a misdemeanor for disrupting the educational process and a felony for tampering with evidence have been forwarded to the District Attorney's Office.