School Board votes yes on restitution

Ashley Hunter
ECB Publishing, Inc.

After last month's June 10 meeting, in which school board members vaguely discussed potential suggestions for Assistant State Attorney Andrew Deneen concerning the Jefferson Elementary School (JES) break-in, the board members chose to conduct a special board meeting session on Thursday, June 20.
During the June 20 special meeting, board members concreted the prosecution suggestions which they could offer to Deneen.
Starting the special meeting off, Deneen enlightened board members on the prosecution offer he was planning to pursue the five juvenile offenders.
In Deneen's plan, he would offer a plea deal to the five juvenile subjects which would include multiple years of probation (until their 18th or 19th birthdays).
The probation would encompass limited access to school district property, would require the five youths to pen a letter of apology to the school board as well as a written essay.
The children would also have an ordered curfew and would have to commit to several hours of community service.
Deneen also brought back up the topic of restitution, which school board members had discussed at the previous meeting.
Deneen offered to include restitution in his plea deal but reminded board members that obtaining restitution would not be an easy endeavor.
“As I've mentioned, actually getting [restitution] paid will be somewhat difficult,” said Deneen. “The reason it gets complicated is because [Florida] statute also requires that we make a determination into the ability to pay. If we order restitution tomorrow, a 13 year old who doesn't have a job isn't going to be able to pay $100 a month towards restitution. But once he got a job, he should be able to pay a certain amount that is reasonable towards that restitution,”
According to Deneen, the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) will likely require the five juvenile subjects to obtain employment upon entering legal working age and from there, whatever money they made, a certain percentage will go towards their owed restitution.
“That will be up to the DJJ to monitor once they get to a regular working age,” said Deneen. “But we cannot order an amount that is not reasonable for any parent or juvenile to pay.”
Also, Deneen advised that he would not object to allowing the five subjects the option for early termination of their probation, “assuming that they have abided by all the conditions and are making payments towards their restitution, as court-ordered.”
As the five youths are currently between the ages of 13-15, Deneen felt that the number of years which he would be suggesting as their probation period was fairly weighty.
“That would actually be more than most first-time adult offenders get, as far as a probation term goes,” said Deneen.
During the special meeting, several citizens took turns at the public speaker podium to share their thoughts, from opposition against requiring the juvenile's parents to take responsibility on restitution, to reminding board members that the school, which was estimated to have suffered approximately $30,000 in damages, was currently offered in a $1-year lease to the 11th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Inc.
However, the estimated $30,000 in damages was another topic that the board batted around.
Deneen advised that he had spoken with an officer at the Monticello Police Department, who had explained how the $30,000 in estimated damages was obtained, with Deneen ultimately deciding that the dollar amount's origin was not stable enough to use in a restitution offering.
“I don't believe that its sufficient enough for me to take forward to the court,” Deneen advised to school board members.
To present a firm number pertaining to the financial cost of the JES damages to the court, Deneen would need a contractor to come out, survey the damage, and provide a professional number.
This was something school board members had discussed doing but had yet to see be done.
“Before we can order restitution, we'd have to do that,” Deneen added.
Board members agreed on the need to a damage estimate from a professional, but couldn't agree on whether $30,000 seemed too high or too low for the number of damages.
While School Board Member Bill Brumfield concluded that the money amount seemed high, School Board Chairperson Shirley Washington attested that “$30,000 is very, very cheap. That's a low bid,” before adding that she felt as though the damage amount should be much higher based on the damages she'd observed following the JES break-in.
Whether or not the damages did amount to less, more or exactly $30,000, Board Member Brumfield maintained his position against expecting the families of the juvenile subjects to pay the complete $30,000.
“I cannot see a family having to pay $30,000,” said Brumfield. “I want to do what's right for the school board because that's my job. But yet, we're here for children. These children have never before been in trouble.”