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CHS student faces no charge for gun in truck at school

2011-02-01T23:58:00Z CHS student faces no charge for gun in truck at schoolBy ALANA LISTOE and ANGELA BRANDT Independent Record Helena Independent Record


A 17-year-old Capital High School student charged last week as an adult for allegedly dealing marijuana won’t be charged for also having a handgun in his truck.

Dustin W. Pershall faces a felony charge of criminal possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, according to court documents. However, he did not break any Montana laws by having the gun because the gun was in a parking lot.

“There is no violation of state law for having a gun in a vehicle,” Lewis and Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher said Tuesday.

According to 45-8-361 MCA, “a person commits the offense of possession of a weapon in a school building if the person purposely and knowingly

possesses, carries or stores a weapon in a school building.”

The gun was never reportedly taken into the school, but remained in the truck in the parking lot.

“I filed a charge in District Court, that’s the most severe thing I can do,” Gallagher said, adding that if convicted of the felony drug charge, Pershall would face 20 years in prison or up to a $50,000 fine or both.

That’s not to say the teen doesn’t have consequences at school for having the handgun on school premises, but what that disciplinary action is remains unclear.

Upon investigation, school officials and a Helena police office found a mason jar containing “a large amount” of marijuana in addition to multiple plastic bags with suspected pot in them inside Pershall’s pickup in the school parking lot on Jan. 25, court documents allege. Two scales also were found along with a bong and three glass pipes.

“Pershall admitted the drugs and drug paraphernalia were his and that he sold marijuana, but not at school,” court documents say.

Prior to a search of his vehicle, Pershall informed school officials that a handgun was located under the driver’s seat, court documents state. Officer Matt Thompson located the revolver in a black nylon holster with expended rounds in the wheel.

During an interview with a Missouri River Drug Task Force detective, Pershall said the truck and the gun belonged to his father. He also said his father keeps the gun under the seat, although Pershall had fired it most recently. There is no law in Montana that prohibits the use of a handgun by a minor.

Superintendent Bruce Messinger said he can’t speak specifically to this case because Pershall is a minor and he won’t talk about student discipline cases. He did say that Pershall has not been in school since the incident.

The policy at Capital High School, where the incident occurred, says a student shall not possess a firearm within the district facilities or at any school-related event.

“The Board of Trustees determines that possession and/or use of a weapon by a person within the property of the district or at school-related activities, is detrimental to the welfare and safety of the students and school personnel,” the CHS student-parent handbook says.

It also says that possession or use of any weapon will require immediate proceedings for the suspension and/or expulsion of a student involved.

No expulsion hearing has been set yet. Pershall is currently on house arrest for the felony charge.

Messinger said having a gun on school grounds is not acceptable, but adds that nothing is automatic as the district prefers to handle each case individually.

It’s most likely that a student will be suspended for bringing a gun to school, Messinger said, but the length of suspension depends on the nature of the incident.

“This wasn’t his gun,” he said. “It was never in his possession on the campus (building) … this is different than someone coming inside and wielding a gun.”

Messinger said the district works to continue educating students even if they’ve lost the privilege to attend. It offers options such as Access to Success, and the Montana Digital Academy, or other district-sponsored alternative programs.

“It’s not you’re in or you’re out,” he said. “We have many gradients of education.”

Messinger said once an expulsion is enforced the district cannot continue to educate a student, per state statute, so it works to find alternative ways to continue schooling.

Even though law enforcement is charging Pershall as an adult, the school doesn’t view the situation the same.

“In our eyes he’s not an adult, even though he’s being tried as an adult,” Messinger said.

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(22) Comments

  1. jsatht
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    jsatht - February 16, 2011 4:59 pm
    Somedays it's a shame to live in Montana, almost Embarrassing. We allow guns in vehicles on school grounds, had a NO Speed Limit law........give me a break. At what point are we going to get with the program and be the greatest state to live in but not have it costs a life every day??????
  2. jlarsen
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    jlarsen - February 08, 2011 11:50 pm
    Area man said: "It is a federal offense under title 18 USC for someone under the age of 21 to possess a handgun. Throw in the fact that he is selling drugs and the US attorney will be prosecuting the case in a year or so."

    Read the law again. You can't purchase a handgun from an FFL if you are under the age of 21. The law DOESN'T prevent someone under 21 from owning a handgun (it could be a gift, bought via private sale, or inherited, or possibly acquired in some other way).

    No U.S. attorney is going to bother with this unless the amount of drugs he was selling was considerably large. If it were, it wouldn't take a year or two before we knew about it. The gun possession isn't even an issue. Once again, if it was, he'd be in U.S. custody already.
  3. dotheresearch
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    dotheresearch - February 08, 2011 4:56 pm
    all i will say is it was better for him to be caught there at school. if he would have been pulled over with the gun and drugs it would have been a higher felony charge.
    so i guess he is getting off easy this way.
  4. BigHelenaSky
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    BigHelenaSky - February 07, 2011 3:35 pm
    As far as the State is concerned the Gun in a non issue as it should be. Good call by the County Attorney. You need to remember our Police dept and Sheriffs office enforce city and state code. Fed law is handled by Federal Law Enforcement. Also its up to the individual officer to decide if he wants to enforce misdemeanor violation or not. Remember when you moved to Montana you don't get to bring your out of state laws with you. That' one reason Montana doesn't have a State Police Force, every county likes to do their own laundry. This kids in enough trouble with out everyone trying to build the gallows outside the court house.
    Like I use to get paid to say "No go back inside folks there isn't anything for you to do here, we got it all under control."
  5. Joe Montana
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    Joe Montana - February 07, 2011 6:03 am
    Nothing serious here. A kid with a gun and drugs in his vehicle.

    The drugs are surely for sickly people and not students.

    The gun is obviously for gopher hunting.

  6. dolphind3
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    dolphind3 - February 04, 2011 10:30 am
    Ok, I have thought about this a little more and there is a big difference in taking a hunting rifle to school during hunting season or even a .22 so you can go gopher hunting after school with friends to being caught with a loaded pistol in your car along with all of the other things that were in his possesion. He has shown poor judgement very consistently. This is the reasoan that a case by case basis is needed. But it sounds to me that they missed the boat here
  7. Purple
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    Purple - February 03, 2011 1:05 am
    ConcernedCitizenHSD said: "This is not a complex case. The school district has a zero tolerance policy. The student should be gone, period. It is also a violation of federal law (Federal Gun-Free Schools Act). Check out this link from Columbia Falls: is it going to take for the district to open their eyes, a school shooting?Once again, the district is trying to keep the public in the dark!"

    ZERO TOLERANCE policies are JOKE because they erroneously follow the rule that one size fits all when it should be about using COMMON SENSE and flexibility, something which is lacking these days.

    Each person should be dealt with based on a case-by-case basis.
  8. dolphind3
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    dolphind3 - February 02, 2011 7:58 pm
    Mtbanana makes some good points but lost me when you started calling names. I have some strong feelings about kids like this but this forum is not the place for them. As for it not being complex for the rest of you. It is because so many kids have gotten away with so much for so long. Now there are so many that think that pot can't hurt them and many adults too. I agree that we need to start somewhere and it may as well be with this guy.
  9. bakker77
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    bakker77 - February 02, 2011 7:57 pm
    Kicking a kid out of school for being bad is not a good punishment. Forcing them to go the rest of their life without a diploma is a tragedy. This would basically start the process of placing them in prison. Did any of you read the article from Denise Juneau? Seventy-five percent of the people in MSP didn't graduate from high school. Having people put in prison costs more than dealing with the real issues at hand. He needs to finish school, he probably won't like that. He shouldn't finish at CHS because he is obviously a threat to the safety of the overall school. He should be given treatment of whatever kind he needs so that he has a chance to be productive adult rather one more person sitting in a cell. The school district's view of how to deal with suspension/expulsion is not good, some kids need more and home bound school is not an answer for kids who couldn't focus in class!!! More needs to be done for this population. I am sure most won't agree with this but it is-- work with them now or be afraid of them later.
  10. Area man
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    Area man - February 02, 2011 6:48 pm
    It is a federal offense under title 18 USC for someone under the age of 21 to possess a handgun. Throw in the fact that he is selling drugs and the US attorney will be prosecuting the case in a year or so.
  11. mtbanana
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    mtbanana - February 02, 2011 4:15 pm

    I agree with nelliemade - this case is all about intent. The girl in Columbia Falls made the honest mistake of leaving a hunting rifle in the trunk, and 'fessed up immediately. However, THIS kid brought to school a weapon, drug paraphernalia, and a large quantity of pot packaged for sale. To me, his intent was clear. Are the authorities so handcuffed by legal technicalities that they can't view this case as a whole when deciding what consequences this young man should face? No one piece (gun/bong/weed) is just totally horrible on its own, but when you add the three, the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. I'm not necessarily for expulsion, though. What better way to make SURE this dope (pun intended) ends up becoming a career drug dealer than to permanently end his educational future? He's young enough that there MIGHT still be time to turn his life around. I think the district should send him to an alternative school experienced at working with challenging students.

  12. meadowlark
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    meadowlark - February 02, 2011 2:11 pm
    They did the right thing. It's not illegal to have a gun per our laws. The marijuana, well, the law says what to do about that too. Just follow the laws, and suspend the kid for a week, and then his parents should be on his back in partnership with the school until he gets his act together and flies right. The last thing we need is another criminal teen.
  13. dietz1963
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    dietz1963 - February 02, 2011 1:21 pm
    Whas I don't understand is Mr. Messingers point of view on expulsion. The problem with kids is the fact that more and more kids are not facing sufficient reprocussions for their actions. Powers adult should have over them have been significantly reduced which is why law enforcement is more involved then ever. The kid shouldn't have been in possession of this drug nor be selling it. By doing so he essentially said "kick me out of school". It would send a strong message to the rest out there
  14. Coach
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    Coach - February 02, 2011 12:50 pm
    No its not that complex. No diploma, no GED & no pistols under the seat with a product ready to sell.
  15. ConcernedCitizenHSD
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    ConcernedCitizenHSD - February 02, 2011 12:05 pm
    This is not a complex case. The school district has a zero tolerance policy. The student should be gone, period. It is also a violation of federal law (Federal Gun-Free Schools Act). Check out this link from Columbia Falls:

    What is it going to take for the district to open their eyes, a school shooting?

    Once again, the district is trying to keep the public in the dark!
  16. ConcernedCitizenHSD
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    ConcernedCitizenHSD - February 02, 2011 11:45 am
    I can't believe that they are not being charged. It's in violation of federal law (Federal Gun-Free Schools Act). Check out this link (story below) about a Columbia Falls girl:

    Once again, the Helena School District tries to bury such a serious matter. What will it take to open their eyes, a school shooting? Zero tolerance in zero tolerance.


    A hearing set for Monday evening will determine whether or not a 16-year old Columbia Falls girl will be expelled after telling school officials that she had forgotten that a hunting rifle was in the trunk of her car.

    Montana's News Station's Dax VanFossen sat down with Demari DeReu at her home in Columbia Falls on Friday so she could explain her side of the story.

    Demarie said, "I was shocked because I've never even had a detention before. I've never been to the office for anything except for a positive thing."

    She explained that she started her Wednesday morning last week at Columbia Falls High School just like every other student, sitting in class and listening to the morning announcements.

    "On Wednesday, when the school announced that we were having a contraband dog search, I was at my desk, and I really didn't realize I had it in there until a couple minutes after the announcement was made," DeReu explained. "So, I told my teacher Mr. Fangor that I had a hunting rifle in the trunk of my car and I needed to move my car."

    Demari and a friend had gone hunting during the Thanksgiving weekend, and she says her friend inadvertently placed the unloaded rifle in the trunk of the car and Demari says she had forgotten it was there.

    So when the school was conducting the search, Demari volunteered that information, and while School District 6 Superintendent Michael Nicosia acknowledges the innocence of the situation, he told Montana's News Station that their hands were tied by the Federal Gun-Free Schools Act.

    Nicosia said, "Any student who breaks a school policy will be temporarily suspended until the board meets for an expulsion hearing. I can't simply say this is a very minor issue so we can handle it differently. We have no choice but to suspend the student."

    DeReu said, "I was really...I didn't know what to think. At first I thought he was joking with me, but he obviously wasn't, I just was in disbelief."

    The school board will have the ultimate say on Monday evening about whether or not to expel DeReu, and she says her biggest concern is that this might affect her going to college.

    "I hope that it won't affect my college education...but at the same time I am concerned about it because I never know," she concluded.

    Nicosia says that the school board has faced two similar incidents in the past, and that in both cases neither student was expelled from school.
  17. dolphind3
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    dolphind3 - February 02, 2011 11:34 am
    This is a complex case. Normally I would say that it is ok to have the gun but this may be different. I see no problem with during hunting season kids bringing rifles to school in the gun rack of their trucks so they can go hunting after school. As for the person wanting to kick the bbgun child out of school.......give me a break. (my friends and I) We used to shoot eachother with bbguns and we all turned out fine. Here is how bad it has become. When muy son was still in grade school another student was having a bad day and told several kids that he was going to kill them. I was asked if I wanted to press charges and I was amazed. I was not about to destroy that kids life for just being a child. He has to learn what is right and what is wrong. To a kid and me and my friends said it too, kill is like beat up. We really tend to over react to some things and on others we under react.
  18. luvmykidz
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    luvmykidz - February 02, 2011 10:04 am
    Hmm, suspension...I bet that will be a real punishment for this kid!
  19. nelliemade
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    nelliemade - February 02, 2011 9:03 am
    Come on, this guy is a DRUG DEALER! Sure it's not illegal to have a gun, it's not illegal to have one in your vehicle, but this says intent to me. What happens when this guy is dealing on school property (No I don't believe the lie that he didn't deal on school grounds), something goes down, and he starts popping shots off at them? The kid having a shot gun in her truck in Kalispell is totally different than this. Surely there's a difference?
  20. Coach
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    Coach - February 02, 2011 8:13 am
    Knowingly having a gun plus having a controlled substance ready for sale on school property. Make it good kick his butt out of school and give dad some time.
  21. dotheresearch
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    dotheresearch - February 02, 2011 7:28 am
    i think that being the child who borrowed his dads truck knew there was a gun under the seat and fired it recently. wouldnt that require a concealed weapons permit?? i think it does and why was this not in the paper the first time this story broke?
    i have heard also that a 1st grader brought a BB gun to SMith school and was pointing that at students and parents found out through each other that this happened. this student is also still in school from what i am told.
  22. Purple
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    Purple - February 02, 2011 12:58 am
    At least "some" common sense exists when it comes to having a firearm in motor vehicles in MONTANA.

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