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Wednesday, January 5, 2022

A Ten-Year-Old's Criminal Justice Nightmare

     While police officers can be helpful, fair, and brave, they can also be cruel and mindless. This also holds true for prosecutors. The arrest of a ten-year-old boy in Colorado Springs, Colorado revealed a degree of law enforcement mindlessness that is as inexplicable as it is dangerous. In this case, the motto "To Serve and Protect" gave way to "To Intimidate and Terrorize."

     In 2019, ten-year-old Gavin Carpenter lived with his parents and two siblings on the Fort Carson Army base outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado. In the afternoon of July 24, 2019, Gavin was in Colorado Springs playing with his friend outside his friend's grandparents' house. Later, the boys planned a sleepover at the friend's nearby home.

     On the sidewalk in front of the grandparents' house, Gavin pointed an orange, Nerf rifle at five or six passing vehicles. He and his companion were playing a version of the video game Fortnite. The driver of an oncoming pickup truck drove a short distance past the boys, slammed on his brakes and with smoking tires, backed up and jumped out of the vehicle to angrily confront the frightened kids. When the friend's grandfather stepped out of his house, the infuriated driver screamed at him.

     Gavin and his friend took refuge in the grandparents' house as the furious motorist called 911 and falsely reported that Gavin had shot at him with a BB gun.

     When deputies with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office rolled up to the grandparents' house, Gavin and his friend, frightened and in tears, tried to explain that they had no intention of threatening or scaring anyone. They were playing a game with an orange, broken toy that could not even shoot Nerf projectiles. The boys' explanation apparently fell on deaf ears because deputies handcuffed the terrified children, placed them into the back of a marked police car, and hauled them to the Colorado Springs Police Department for fingerprinting and mugshots. Shortly thereafter, Gavin's parents, Chris and Stephanie Carpenter, showed up at the police station.

     Gavin Carpenter and his playmate were not released from police custody until ten-thirty that night.

     For the ten-year-old Nerf gun pointer, his surreal ordeal did not end with his arrest. A prosecutor in the El Paso County District Attorney's Office charged Gavin Carpenter with felony menacing. Anyone who has spent a year in law school knows that to commit a crime, the perpetrator must possess criminal intent. To commit felony menacing, the actor must intentionally or knowingly place someone in fear of serious bodily injury or death. In the case of a ten-year-old who thought he was playing a game with a Nerf gun, there was no intent to menace anyone. The charging prosecutor, of course, knew this but didn't care. This was not about the law or criminal justice, this was about making a political point at the expense of an innocent child. This prosecutor should have been removed from office.

     Mr. and Mrs. Carpenter hired an attorney and met with the district attorney who refused to drop the charge. According to a juvenile court judge, before Gavin Carpenter's attorney could petition to have his client's felony record expunged, the boy had to enter a 216-day "diversion program" that required him, among other things, to do community service and submit an apology essay to the court. (If anyone should have apologized, it was the idiots in charge of this case.)

     In February 2020, after Gavin's parents spent $4,000 in legal fees, a judge granted their petition for expungement. As difficult as that process was, expunging Gavin Carpenter's fear of the police would be a lot tougher and take a lot longer. Who could blame him if he never trusted a cop again. 

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