Incidents bring teen alcohol, drug use to attentionLocal authorities are concerned, but not alarmed, about recent drug and alcohol use among Mitchell students.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Local authorities are concerned, but not alarmed, about recent drug and alcohol use among Mitchell students.
Mitchell School District Activities Director Geoff Gross said he does not believe the incidents signal a rising local trend this year for student alcohol and drug abuse.
“It concerns me every year,” Gross said. “In our society, teen drinking is an issue. It’s not a lifestyle I condone.”
Gross said that at least six students have been subjected to disciplinary action thus far resulting from either alcohol or drug incidents early in the school year.
All students except one have been minors.
On Aug. 24, Mitchell police, assisted by a canine unit from the South Dakota Highway Patrol, issued citations to four MHS students for “ingesting an intoxicating substance,” a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Three minors were referred to the Davison County State’s Attorney’s Office for action and an 18-year-old female student was ticketed as an adult. She was officially arrested Sept. 19 at the Mitchell Police Division office on the charge, and now faces a court date.
Detective Lt. Don Everson said the students had smoked marijuana at the home of one of the students, and one juvenile brought marijuana back to the school. The school notified police, who enlisted the assistance of the Highway Patrol to find the marijuana.
A separate incident Sept. 16 was the subject of gossip around town.
That night, six students showed evidence of intoxication at the Mitchell homecoming football game.
The students left the game and did some drinking at the home of one of the students before returning, said Mitchell School Resource Officer Pat Oleson.
“The word got around that they had been drinking,” he said. Authorities followed the reports and soon located the students at the school’s homecoming dance.
Oleson would not disclose how he got the news, but he said the students didn’t try to avoid attention.
“The girls were advertising the fact that they had been drinking and somebody just went to the authorities with it,” he said.
Police and school officials became involved and the students were turned over to their parents.
“The school handled it from their end because it was a school activity, and we handled it from the legal side,” said Oleson, who works for the city Department of Public Safety. The students were referred to the state’s attorney, who has discretion on how to handle juvenile matters, Oleson said.
State’s Attorney Pat Smith said his office has three options available for handling juvenile matters, including determining that nothing more should be done in a case, or referring the youthful offender to an informal probation program with court services without requiring an actual court appearance.
In the most serious option, a child can be petitioned into juvenile court as a delinquent or a Child In Need of Supervision (CHIN). The latter would be for charges that would not be considered criminal if the person were an adult, such as a curfew violation or a minor consumption of an intoxicating substance. Smith declined to comment specifically on the recent school cases.
Smith said the majority of juvenile cases end up with probation.
Legal ramifications are considerably more serious for a youthful offender charged as an adult. In such cases, an attorney is usually required and the youngster must enter a plea and either work out a plea agreement or go to trial.
Ingesting an intoxicating substance is a Class 1 misdemeanor, the same as driving under the influence, Smith said.
Under school district disciplinary policy, a student can be required to sit out four games or “events” under a first offense, and up to eight events under a second offense. Students can be barred from activities for up to a year for a third offense.
Gross would say only that about six students are serving penalties under the policy.
Smith, who has been state’s attorney for 12 years, believes alcohol use has been “pretty consistent” in Mitchell, even going back to his years as a student at MHS.
The consequences of young people drinking or using drugs can be lethal, he said.
“I’ve had some tragic situations,” he said. “We’ve had car-related accidents and a number of years ago, we had a young man die from alcohol poisoning.”
Smith said he’s always hesitant about commenting on a problem for which he doesn’t have a solution.
“I don’t think Mitchell is any worse or any better than any other community,” he said. “I don’t know what the answer is, but I think we should keep hammering away at our youth, telling them that there are both legal and real-life consequences for their choices.”
Oleson, a Mitchell police officer since 1980, has been serving as the school resource officer for the past five years.
The problems of drug use and drinking are “always here and we’re always dealing with it,” Oleson said.
“We do have an issue, and that issue is addressed every time we run into it.”