Texas: Where Schoolhouse Lunch Lines Lead to Felonies
May 2, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — A not-so-fake $2 bill and a ham sandwich have Texas children removed from class and prosecuted for passing counterfeit currency. With two recently uncovered forgery cases, Ted Oberg from ABC13 highlights one of the flaws in Texas’ juvenile system: Independent School District Police.
[S]chool police units spend countless hours investigating small counterfeit bills used by students in lunch lines that sometimes turn out not to be fake at all.
These counterfeit charges are no slap on the wrist. It’s a felony and in some cases a fake bill could move a student from the classroom into a Texas prison for two to 10 years.
Almost every local school district has created its own police department housed within its schools. Created to promote safety, these departments rely on tax dollars to continue. And, you only get tax dollars with results. You only get police results with crime. Who needs cops in safe school? If there’s no crime, they might as well be out on the street doing something useful. And a cop could get hurt that way. Do you want cops to get hurt?
You think school police officers have an incentive to find criminal activity on campus? You bet they do. Their very existence depends upon it. Sadly, policing is a results-oriented field. Without results, much like quotas, there really would be no need for growing police agencies within schools.
Take the Fort Bend County ISD Police, for example. They have a crisis response team, a traffic safety division, a quality control/community service division, a bike patrol division, a criminal investigations division, a K-9 division, and a gang suppression and intelligence division. These divisions certainly don’t work for free. And they don’t continue to grow their department without taxpayer funds and results. In theory, without gangs, there is no need for a gang suppression unit. Without crime, there would be no need for a criminal investigations division.
Which brings us back to the lunch line. Recently, a 13-year-old eighth grader in Fort Bend became public enemy number one for handing the lunch lady a $2 bill.
[She] was hoping to eat that day’s lunch of chicken tenders with her classmates using a $2 bill given to her by her grandmother when she was stopped by the long arm of the law.
“I went to the lunch line and they said my $2 bill was fake,” Danesiah told Ted Oberg Investigates. “They gave it to the police. Then they sent me to the police office. A police officer said I could be in big trouble.”
Big trouble in a little school. That’s because forgery (the making or passing of counterfeit money) is a third degree felony. And, for a juvenile who might be certified to stand trial as an adult, forgery carries a punishment of 2 to 10 years in the Texas prison system. Even without certification, the juvenile would face confinement up to age 19 – a significant term of imprisonment for a 10-13 year old child.
Luckily for her, the police officer spent his day chasing down where the bill came from. Ultimately, after several hours of investigation, the officer learned the bill wasn’t fake after all. It was simply an older bill that didn’t respond correctly to the magic marker used by the lunch ladies.
So while she is lucky she didn’t end up in juvenile detention, she didn’t get to enjoy lunch with her friends. In fact she had no lunch at all. She undoubtedly waited in the police department offices while the police sorted out the lunch lady’s mistake, and their own. She undoubtedly missed class. She undoubtedly was scared beyond belief. And she was the lucky one.
A not-so-lucky 13-year old boy from a Cy-Fair ISD middle school was arrested taken into custody for buying lunch with what turned out to be a fake $10 bill.
It looks real, and his parents say it felt real.
The friend pulls out a $10 bill and his friend thinks that it’s real. So they get to the lunch line… he buys his lunch with it, takes his lunch and goes and eats it.
After school, officials did the forgery test and realized it was a fake $10 bill.
He comes to school the next day and he gets arrested and charged with a third-degree felony.
There’s another kid, taken out of class, charged with a crime delinquent conduct, and facing up to 10 years in prison.
Wait, what about the ham sandwich? A Fort Bend ISD high school sophomore found a $10 bill in the hallway and decided to purchase a ham sandwich at school.
But in the case of 15-year-old Alec –an A and B student with no disciplinary problems — Fort Bend ISD appears to be investigating him like he’s a hardened criminal.
“You’ve got a kid, by who all accounts is a good kid,” said dad Louis Hunter. “He’s got letters from all his teachers, all his classes. He’s never been in trouble.”
In his case, the lunch lady immediately claimed the bill as fake and the student used other funds to purchase his sandwich. Then two months later, this child and his father learned he had been charged with a felony.
All-in-all, reporter Ted Oberg found 40 cases of forgery in school lunch lines in an approximate 3 year period while looking at just three school districts. While not all of these cases resulted in prosecution, many did. According to the ever growing Fort Bend ISD Police Department:
“Fort Bend ISD has its own police department whose responsibility is to investigate cases that are brought to their attention in a timely and appropriate manner,” officials wrote in a statement to abc13. ” In cases where there is probable cause for delinquent conduct, the cases are referred to the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s office to determine whether or not a petition should be filed.”
So, while the District Attorney may or may not file a petition, the police are certainly going to “crack down” on crime and prove the need for their existence. Countless man-hours will be spent making sure all students pay for their lunch, even in cases where neither the lunch lady nor the cop could even tell the difference between a real and fake $2 bill. Of course they will investigate all cases, no matter how insignificant, just to maintain their funding safety in our schools. For the children, of course.