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Tuesday, October 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

New school threats law put to the test in Moscow

UPDATED: Tue., April 3, 2018

By Katie Short Moscow-Pullman Daily News

In the wake of threats made against Moscow School District last week, community members, parents and students expressed their concerns and frustration that the suspect was not taken into custody following his alleged threat. However, Moscow Police say they did more than they could have done six days earlier.

Thursday morning, Michael Mastro Jr., 26, of Moscow, allegedly posted a comment on YouTube threatening to “shoot up” two Moscow schools April 18. Mastro Jr. was cited and released for the threat after it was noticed by police in Mansfield, Texas.

It is only under the newly revised Idaho State Law, 18-3302I, that took effect March 23, that officers were able to cite and release the man, said Moscow Police Chief James Fry. Fry said if the threats had come just six days earlier – under the old law – officers would not have been able to even cite Mastro Jr. because he was not on school property when the alleged threats were made.

Under Idaho’s new law, Mastro Jr. was cited Thursday for allegedly threatening violence upon school grounds, a misdemeanor. He is scheduled to appear in Latah County 2nd District Court April 11 and is facing up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Idaho State Law dictates that except for a few select cases, such as domestic violence or assault, officers cannot arrest a person on a misdemeanor unless the officer is physically present at the time of the incident, Fry said. Threatening violence upon school grounds does not fall under that list of exceptions.

“The reason why we had to cite and release is because it was a misdemeanor that took place not in our presence, so by law we couldn’t arrest – that’s why we did that,” Fry said.

Initial discussions about revising the old law began in September after a similar incident occurred at Moscow High School, Fry said.

He said after the September incident, which also involved social media, it became apparent that the old law was not allowing police to keep the community safe and the law needed to be changed in order to meet the advancements in technology that have occurred since 2006, when the law was originally written.

Fry said threats made through “electronic means” were specifically included in the revised version to allow officers to investigate threats made off of school grounds.

He said while some parts of the old law were outdated, other parts remained consistent, such as it being classified as a misdemeanor charge.

Brian Armes, the Manager of the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security, said Monday that when the Fraternal Order of Police, Rep. Pat McDonald, R-Boise, and Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Ammon, were trying to pass the bill, one of the greatest concerns was to avoid inadvertently crippling a high school student’s life by making them a felon.

He said teenagers often make rash choices and say things before thinking through the consequences, and while threats should not be taken lightly, officers should also be given the ability to investigate the threats and their validity.

The new law states if an officer’s investigation finds the suspect has weapons in order to carry out their threats, police have the ability to arrest the suspect on a felony.

Felony threatening violence upon school grounds carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Moscow School District Superintendent Greg Bailey said he spoke with Armes on Monday morning and discussed the possibility of an amendment to the law that would make it a felony for a person aged 21 or older to threaten violence to a school, or possibly give officers the ability to hold the suspect in custody until the situation is reviewed, Bailey said.

“If an adult person is the one making the threat, I would like to see a harsher consequence,” he said

The law is still relatively new, said Armes, adding that it is only because the bill was signed into law with a emergency clause that it went into effect immediately on March 23.

“If it hadn’t been signed with the emergency clause, it wouldn’t have gone into effect until July,” Armes said.

“For better or worse, Moscow was the first to deal with an incident that this law covered. Prior to this law, there would have been absolutely nothing law enforcement could have done,” Armes said.

Mastro Jr. has since contacted the Daily News to issue a public apology. He also took to social media to voice that apology.

“I understand people are upset about my insensitive disgusting crude joke,” Mastro Jr. wrote. “…To make things entirely clear it was a very bad joke. I am not the person people are saying I am. I have a happy wonderful life with amazing people around me in this community… If you know me or who I am you know I would never do that. I really am sorry.”

His Facebook page has since been deleted.

Fry urged community members to contact their legislators if they are upset about the new law.

“We don’t make the laws, we enforce the laws,” Fry said. “If people see a need for laws to be changed, they need to contact their representatives; I want to assure the community we are here and take it very seriously.”

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