Feb. 6, 2007, 9:31PM
What 10-year-old's jury will hear
By RICK CASEY
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
If a jury is seated May 15, as scheduled, to decide whether 10-year-old Casey Harmeier committed the crime of attempting to send a false fire alarm, here is some of the evidence jurors are likely to hear.
Casey is a good student, making A's and B's.
According to his father, he has never been in trouble, either at Tomball ISD's Beckendorf Intermediate School or previously at Tomball Elementary School.
When I asked district spokesman Stacy Stanfield to confirm that, she said, “Student records are confidential. I am told he is a good student.”
He was called to the principal's office last year — to receive the “citizen-of-the-month award.” When Casey was sentenced to three weeks at the district's alternative school for actually activating the fire alarm, alternative-school teacher Janet Bohannon e-mailed his fifth-grade classroom teachers asking if there was anything she needed to know in order to help him.
“Casey is a really good kid and a hard worker,” replied Lori Dollar. She added her concern that “we do a lot of labs in science that he will be missing.”
Teacher Carrie Roberts wrote: “He's a great kid.”
Presumably those same teachers would have to testify he was a really stupid kid when he attempted to pull the fire alarm. There were so many witnesses. He was in line with classmates and a teacher was nearby when he accidentally brushed a clear plastic cover over the fire alarm. Seeing the cover was ajar, another boy dared him to pull the cover off.
A dare is tough on a boy. Casey pulled the cover and was frightened when a loud horn went off.
Neither he nor his teacher nor, apparently, the principal knew the covers were rigged to sound a loud, local alarm precisely to discourage false alarms from being sent to the dispatcher.
In the principal's office, Casey erroneously said he pulled the alarm. Principal Dolores Guidry sentenced Casey to three weeks at the alternative center and the boy who dared him to in-school suspension.
Without consulting Casey's parents, Guidry called the Tomball police, who arrested Casey and charged him with a felony. It was nearly four hours after the incident that Frank Harmeier, who teaches history at the Tomball alternative school, was notified that his 10-year-old was under arrest.
It took Harmeier 51 days, but he finally was able to get school district officials to admit in writing that “the overwhelming evidence” (a fire alarm log) showed that the fire alarm was not set off by Casey but by a staff member attempting to stop the local horn.
Prosecutor Cari Allen was notified. She did not, however, drop the charges.
“I think the evidence will show he was attempting to do it,” she said.
Apparently she doesn't know about the eyewitness. I will call her Becky because her mother wants to protect her privacy.
Becky told her mother about the incident when she came home from school that day.
“She said the other boy dared Casey to pull the cover off,” her mother said. “She said, ‘I don't think you should do that.’”
Becky's mom said her daughter was clear that it was only about the cover.
“There was no dare to pull the fire-alarm lever,” she said.
Becky's mom called Principal Guidry the next day.
"I told her Becky had witnessed the whole thing," she said. "But I told her under no circumstances should she talk to my daughter without me or my husband there."
"I didn't want to take the risk of their taking her off to jail,” she said.
She said she had received calls from other parents, all upset that Casey had been arrested without his parents' knowledge.
As it happens, Becky's grandmother dared a classmate to pull an alarm when they were ninth-graders nearly 60 years ago. The girl did. Both had to stay after school several days and write an essay on good citizenship, said Becky's mom.
Neither became a criminal.
Guidry didn't bother to interview Becky, but I'd be surprised if defense attorney Craig Washington didn't want the jury to hear from her.
Watching the prosecutor and school officials squirm during the trial may be the only good thing the juvenile justice system does for Casey.
Already he's been put through a session where, without his parents present, he was asked whether they abused him, sexually or otherwise.
After that session he wrote a brief journal item: "I feel like a dieses. Like all I am is a viol monster of a person well at least thats wat I think. I'm always scared every time I leave my parents sight and the questions I had to answer were scary and asked if I had ever been high, drunk, or raped and it scared me."
At a more recent appearance, Casey was present with his father and Washington as the prosecutor offered a plea bargain and confidently said she knew she could get a conviction.
"I know that's just a negotiating technique, but Casey doesn't," said Harmeier. "He cried all the way home."
Casey will never pull the cover off a fire alarm again. But he wouldn't have anyway. And an essay on citizenship could have helped his spelling.
What 10-year-old's jury will hear | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle
What good is that fire alarm anyway? If you trigger a siren by removing the cover, why would you even bother to take the next step and pull the lever?