Snapchat post caused school district closure; Carbondale teen enters plea

LYNDON, Kan. – Just 15 words, two sentences, possibly a joke, posted on a popular social media network caused the entire Santa Fe Trail school district to close for the day on April 20, 2017, and resulted in a charge of criminal threat being brought against a 15-year-old Santa Fe Trail High School student.

Devin M. Culbertson, 15, of Carbondale, appeared in Osage County District Court today and entered a plea of no contest to a reduced charge of felony criminal threat.

Culbertson was originally charged with aggravated criminal threat in a May 4, 2017, criminal complaint. His attorney, Jack Hobbs, told the court the charge had been amended as result of plea negotiations with Osage County Attorney Brandon Jones.

In a press release about the arrest of Culbertson on the evening of April 19, Osage County Sheriff Laurie Dunn said the threat that caused the closure of the school was made verbally. “This was a verbal threat, no weapons or explosives were involved,” the sheriff said in the release.

An arrest affidavit filed by Osage County Sheriff Deputy Derrick Feliciano said that SFTHS Principal Patrick Graham notified him around 6 p.m. April 19, 2017, of a post on Snapchat he had received anonymously from a concerned parent.

According to Feliciano, Culbertson said in the Snapchat post, “[redacted] and [redacted] just dared me to columbine this place. Don’t come to school tomorrow.”

The deputy reported the statement was followed by four emoji smiley faces.

Feliciano also noted in his report that the next day, April 20, was the anniversary of the Columbine school shootings that happened in 1999 in Colorado.

The deputy reported he contacted Dunn, who instructed him to send another deputy to the home of the two female students identified in Culbertson’s post. Feliciano said he then went to Culbertson’s home in Carbondale, where he arrested him.

Feliciano reported Culbertson immediately said, “This is about what I said on Snapchat isn’t it? I know I shouldn’t have made that joke.”

Feliciano said Culbertson admitted to him he had sent the post to a small group of students.

“It is unknown if those five students sent it to anyone else,” Feliciano said. “At this time no other student was suspected to be involved.”

Feliciano reported that after the arrest, he contacted USD 434 Superintendent Steve Pegram, who advised he had been in contact with several school board members concerned about having school the next day.

“Ultimately, Dr. Pegram and the school board made a decision to cancel school for the entire district for Thursday, April 20, 2017,” Feliciano reported.

Today, making a statement of facts supporting the charge, Jones noted that the perceived threat and resulting shutdown of the school district for a day caused a disruption in the lives of many people.

“Devin Culbertson Snapchatted something to the effect of what he was going to do at school the next day,” Jones said. “The school closed. Many people didn’t get paid. All because this was perceived as a threat.”

The attorneys noted that as part of the plea agreement, the state would recommend a sentence of community service, including 100 hours of service at Santa Fe Trail High School if it could be worked out with the school’s administration.

“My hope is he can get into the school to do community service to show them he’s truly sorry,” Hobbs said. The attorney said his client was also hoping the school would consider his community service and possibly reduce the term of his expulsion.

Osage County Magistrate Judge Taylor Wine questioned Culbertson about where he was obtaining schooling, noting it was required by law that he attend school. The teen said he was taking online courses through Greenbush.

Wine reminded Culbertson that he was not required to sentence him according to the agreement made between attorneys, and Culbertson could still face probation and fines for the crime, depending on how the judge decides the sentence.

According to the complaint, the act if committed by an adult would be a severity level 9 person felony, putting it into a presumptive probation of seven to nine months on the state’s sentencing guidelines.

Wine questioned the attorneys about whether restitution was being considered as part of sentencing.

Jones explained that an agreement had not been reached on restitution, due in part because of difficulty in determining the financial loss for the one-day shutdown.

“A bunch of people didn’t get paid for that day. They saw quite a bit of financial impact to employees of the school district,” Jones said.

He said the attorneys would work out a recommendation on restitution before sentencing, which the judge set for 10 a.m. Oct. 26.

The amended complaint charged Culbertson with unlawfully and feloniously communicated a threat to commit violence with the intent to cause evacuation of a building, or made such a threat with reckless disregard of the risk of causing such evacuation.

See related article: Carbondale teen charged for threat that closed Santa Fe Trail schools


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