A television news crew was threatened with arrest if they dared enter a 500 foot “safety zone” surrounding a school in Florida this week, even though it is not even school property.
However, the 27-year-old school teacher that is accused of taking a 15-year-old girl into a closet in his classroom for heavy make-out sessions was not arrested.
The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office said that Palatka High School English teacher Austin Johns did not commit a crime because he did not have sex with the student, even though they were planning on doing so.
But a school resource officer who works for the same sheriff’s office decided the news crew did not have any legitimate business in the vicinity of the school, which is why he threatened them with arrest.
Florida Statute 810.0975 defines a “safety zone” as follows:
(1) For the purposes of this section, the term “school safety zone” means in, on, or within 500 feet of any real property owned by or leased to any public or private elementary, middle, or high school or school board and used for elementary, middle, or high school education.(2)(a) Each principal or designee of each public or private school in this state shall notify the appropriate law enforcement agency to prohibit any person from loitering in the school safety zone who does not have legitimate business in the school safety zone or any other authorization, or license to enter or remain in the school safety zone or does not otherwise have invitee status in the designated safety zone.(b) During the period from 1 hour prior to the start of a school session until 1 hour after the conclusion of a school session, it is unlawful for any person to enter the premises or trespass within a school safety zone or to remain on such premises or within such school safety zone when that person does not have legitimate business in the school safety zone or any other authorization, license, or invitation to enter or remain in the school safety zone. Any person who violates this subsection commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.(c) Any person who does not have legitimate business in the school safety zone or any other authorization, license, or invitation to enter or remain in the school safety zone who shall willfully fail to remove himself or herself from the school safety zone after the principal or designee, having a reasonable belief that he or she will commit a crime or is engaged in harassment or intimidation of students entering or leaving school property, requests him or her to leave the school safety zone commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083. Nothing in this section shall be construed to abridge or infringe upon the right of any person to peaceably assemble and protest.(3) This section does not apply to residents or persons engaged in the operation of a licensed commercial business within the school safety zone.
So for this charge to stick, the arresting officer would have to prove the news crew did not have a “legitimate business” in the school. But the teacher was suspended. The parents are outraged. And the school district is clamming up.
So the media has every right to try to get to the bottom of this story, so it most definitely is legitimate business. Also note that the law makes it clear that peaceful assembly in order to protest is allowed within this safety school zone because it is protected by the First Amendment, so there is no reason why a news crew is not allowed to pursue First Amendment-protected activity within this safety zone.
But the teacher has absolutely no legitimate business to swap spit with a 15-year-old student inside a closet, so perhaps he should be the one arrested for entering this safety zone.
According to WJXT4:
According to a Putnam County Sheriff’s Office report, the girl told detectives she and 27-year-old Austin Johns began communicating over the Internet after school, then began text messaging each other. She said things intensified, telling investigators the two would meet before and after class.
“Once the room door was locked and the blinds were closed, Johns and her would go into a large closet and begin to kiss each other,” the report reads.
In a sworn statement, the girl said “the two had talked about having sex but it had not happened as of yet.”
Johns was not arrested, and deputies closed the case, saying, “A criminal charge is not warranted at this time. However, Johns has clearly violated ethical issues involving his employment as a teacher.”
The father of the girl who made the accusations said he believes Johns should be prosecuted.
Channel 4’s Vic Micolucci went to the school for answers, but didn’t get many. A school resource deputy threatened to arrest him if he didn’t leave the vicinity, even though he wasn’t on campus. The deputy said Channel 4’s cameras were not allowed within 500 feet of any school property, citing it was a “safety zone.” The district declined any interviews.
Unfortunately, the news station will probably allow this threat to go uncontested, which will give these school resource officers even more reason to make unlawful threats.