S.D. Supreme Court reverses judge’s decision that 15-year-old student acted as a terrorist

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A student who said the word “bomb” and said he wanted to kill someone while holding a pair of scissors didn’t meet the state’s legal standards for making a terrorist threat, and therefore shouldn’t have been found delinquent, the South Dakota Supreme Court has decided.

The justices unanimously agreed in an opinion publicly released Thursday. During the January 30, 2020, incident, the 15-year-old student was sent to the principal’s office because of behavior toward another student at lunch time.

The high court reviewed the decision by Circuit Judge Kent Shelton that the student made a terrorist threat in violation of state law while in the office area.

Justice Scott Myren wrote that a police officer found no explosive device.

“At best, the State’s evidence supports a factual finding that I.T.B. said the word ‘bomb’ within earshot of other students. Such an utterance, without further context, is insufficient to support a determination beyond a reasonable doubt that I.T.B. threatened to commit a ‘crime of violence’ or an ‘act dangerous to human life involving . . . any explosive device’ with the intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, as required by SDCL 22-8-13(1),” the justice stated.

On the scissors issue, the justice acknowledged that a pair of scissors can be a dangerous weapon depending on the circumstances.

“However, from our review of the record, (the school aide) is the only person who heard the remarks I.T.B. made while holding the scissors. She testified that I.T.B. did not direct these statements at her or any other person—he was just talking. She could not remember precisely how I.T.B. phrased his statement. After hearing the ‘threat,’ she did not immediately remove the scissors from I.T.B.’s reach, and (the aide) testified that she believed I.T.B. when he said he was ‘just kidding,'” the justice wrote.

Justice Myren found the circuit judge didn’t specifically identify a “civilian population” that the student intended to intimidate in making the statements and that the circuit judge had found that the student acted with the intent to intimidate “someone even if it’s just the staff at the high school.”

“Therefore, while Morales and decisions by other courts further address what types of groups constitute a ‘civilian population,’ we need not make that determination here because the term ‘population’ plainly
requires an intent to coerce or intimidate more than one person, and the evidence is clearly not sufficient to support such a finding,” the justice wrote.

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