Online petition claims felony charge based on race after Varina - WNEM TV 5

Online petition claims felony charge based on race after Varina senior prank

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HENRICO, VA (WWBT) -

Felony charges for an alleged senior prank at Varina High School have sparked a heated conversation in Henrico County.

An online petition on CredoMobilize.com claims the eleven teenagers are being criminalized because of the color of their skin.  But Henrico Police Chief Doug Middleton and the Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon Taylor says race has nothing to do with this case.  They say this is destruction of property, not a prank.

The online petition shows the students' faces and claims the felony vandalism charge, "...could haunt them for the rest of their lives.  That's a pretty high price to pay for chocolate syrup."  Earl Sibley says he would sign this petition.  "They're just starting out," he said.  "Why have something like that against them already?"

But Chief Middleton say this crime is anything but petty and taxpayers did pay a high price: more than $3,000 to clean up the vulgarities written in syrup, the rice, flour, and eggs along with permanent marker from the walls plus trash from the roof.  He says the clean up took more than ten hours.

Legally, this is a felony.

"You can't decriminalize criminal conduct by calling it a prank," says NBC12 legal analyst Steve Benjamin.  "If your conduct hurts somebody else or causes damage to something that isn't yours, it's a crime and you need to think twice about it."

Police go on to point out, for the past two years senior pranks at Varina have cost taxpayers almost $10,000 to repair damages.  Last year, somebody glues all the locks.  But nobody was caught so charges were never brought forward.

But the petition says, "Enough is enough. Let's make sure that public officials in Henrico County and nationwide know that we will no longer tolerate racial bias in student discipline!"  The NAACP of Henrico County released this statement:

"The Henrico NAACP Branch is very concerned about the students being charged with Class 6 felonies from Varina  High School. We are not condoning the serious actions of the students involved in the senior prank but, we do not want to see students in the school to prison pipeline.

We are sure this matter can be resolved in a expeditious and equitable manner."

Henrico Police also say the Varina principal warned students numerous times that a prank like this could bring legal consequences.

The 11 teens will be in court again in July, and police say there will be more arrests.The prosecution has complete discretion to either amend the charges to a misdemeanors or withdraw them.

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