PHILIPSBURG–A fifteen-year-old student was sentenced to a conditional sentence of fifteen days of juvenile youth detention, on two years’ probation, and eighty hours of community service for participation in school-related violence. The juvenile was tried during a public hearing at the Court of First Instance on Wednesday. The penalties for getting involved in school fights range from community service to jail time.
Normally, Court hearings of juveniles below the age of 17 years old are held behind closed doors, but the Prosecutor requested an open-door hearing in this particular case, as the Prosecutor’s Office wants not only the judicial authorities, but also parents, schools and the community at large to be involved in combating school violence.
The Judge said he understood the Prosecutor’s Office’s need for a public debate about school violence, but also understood defence lawyer Sjamira Roseburg’s concerns about her client’s privacy. On condition of safeguarding the suspect’s anonymity, the Judge allowed the public and the media in the Courtroom to witness the case.
On September 30, the St. Maarten Police Force KPSM and the Prosecutor’s Office formed a taskforce to bring stakeholders together to collectively reduce the number of school fights among St. Maarten’s youth. The taskforce consists of community police officers, police management team and Juvenile Department personnel, as well as Prosecutor’s Office staff.
The taskforce seeks to inform and educate parents and the general public on their roles and responsibilities when it comes to school fights; to conduct result-oriented visits to schools; and to meet with government institutions to stimulate a multidisciplinary preventive approach.
According to the Prosecutor, the schools in the St. Peters area have to deal with an increasing number of aggressive and violent school fights. The suspect in Wednesday’s case was charged with mistreatment and possession of an illegal weapon, presumable a knife or another sharp object, during a fight at a gas station on L.B. Scot Road on September 27. He was part of a group of boys in school uniforms who attacked a father who had wanted to pick up his son from school.
The victim, a minister of the Pentecostal Church who said he teaches his son not to respond to aggression with violence but seek help from responsible adults, was attacked twice when he tried to separate his son and another juvenile who were fighting.
The suspect initially denied that he had been the aggressor in this case, but images obtained from the gas station’s video-surveillance cameras told a different story. The young defendant, who told the Court that he wants to become a mechanic, eventually admitted that he had hit the man twice outside and inside the gas station, urged on by a group of boys.
He offered his apologies to the victim, who made a statement in Court during which he said he had to run for his life and had to seek medical treatment.
The pastor accepted his young foe’s apologies and wished him “well in the future” and said he hoped he “does not get involved with the wrong persons.” At the end of the proceedings he invited the young man to visit his church.
The Prosecutor considered the case proven and said that violence in the St. Peters school district is a great concern. “There is a lot of peer pressure among younger children against the background of social media. This is a community problem which parents, schools and government should do something about. When the Prosecutor’s Office and the Court intervene it is already too late.”
Among measures to curb school violence are the recent reopening of the Miss Lalie Youth Care and Rehabilitation Centre, where the defendant spent 15 days in pre-trial detention, as well as an adapted school-bus system and plans to strengthen the Court of Guardianship.
Attorney Roseburg said she was also concerned about school violence and said her client had been the victim of peer pressure.
In the verdict, the Judge said the defendant had played an “important role” in the group of “aggressive kids” who had turned against a father who had wanted to pick up his child.
He said the use of violence is against the law. “You should have kept your hands off others and you are punishable for that,” he told the young suspect, warning him that should he have been an adult he would have received a lengthy prison sentence. DAILY HERALD SOURCE