Zero tolerance run amok almost destroyed the lives of two high school students in Escondido, California. Brandon Cappelletti, 18, and Sam Serrato, 16, faced expulsion from school and criminal charges because security guards found knives used for fishing and other chores in their vehicles.
“Sometimes I can’t sleep and I wake up in the middle of the night,” Serrato, a junior, told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “If I end up getting expelled, I’d have to go to a community college. It’s not what I really want to do. My whole life would change.”
Security guards found a pocketknife with a blade more than two and a half inches long – the maximum allowed length under state law — in the glove compartment of his SUV while it was in the parking lot at San Pasqual High School. The knife didn’t even belong to Serrato; it belonged to his dad, who had put it there after purchasing it weeks earlier.
For that transgression, Serrato could have faced up to a year in jail and expulsion from school, which would have made him ineligible to play football. Serrato is an honor student who is hoping for a football scholarship to a four-year school.
Cappelletti almost saw his dream of serving in the Marine Corps disappear. The branch’s high standards make even a misdemeanor a disqualification for service. Cappelletti had left three knives in his pickup truck following a fishing trip in January and forgot about them; the knives were used for cutting fishing line and fileting the fish. Like Serrato, he never actually took a knife into the school.
State Law Mandates Zero Tolerance
The two ran afoul of a California state law that makes it a misdemeanor to bring a knife with a blade longer than two and a half inches on school property. Security guards found the weapons while searching for drugs with drug-sniffing dogs, although the guards found no drugs.
School officials tried to expel the two, but that provoked a backlash which prompted a large crowd to fill a school board meeting. Even some school officials turned out to support the two.
“I’m willing to stick my neck out for these kids because they are the kind we want representing us in society,” football coach Tony Corley told a reporter. “They made an honest mistake. They will learn from it and I hope their lives won’t change because of an innocent mistake.”
Officials apparently listened, and on February 13, The Union-Tribune reported that no criminal charges would be filed and the two will be able to return to school. That will enable Cappelletti to report to Marine boot camp this summer.
“Following the review, and based on the totality of the circumstances, the Escondido Police Department has decided to not submit the cases to the District Attorney’s Office, or to the Juvenile Diversion Program,” Lt. Ed Varso of the Escondido Police Department said in a statement. “No charges will be pursued in the case.”
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