Don’t worry citizen! Police officers with the Fort Bend Independent School District in Houston, Texas are on the beat making sure pesky eighth graders aren’t passing off counterfeit $2 bills in lunchrooms in exchange for chicken nuggets.
Thirteen-year-old Danesiah Neal was hoping to score said nuggets at Christa McAuliffe Middle School after her grandmother had given her a $2 bill form 1953 that school officials deemed a “fake.”
“I went to the lunch line and they said my $2 bill was fake,” Neal said. “They gave it to the police. Then they sent me to the police office. A police officer said I could be in big trouble.”
The crime of forgery is a third-degree felony in Texas that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. According to police reports, eight other such investigations in the school district have been launched against students since 2013, and dozens more have occurred in neighboring districts.
Local prosecutors say that most of the kids would only be given probation in light of a conviction, but a felony arrest record may still follow them around for the rest of their lives as the expunging of juvenile records isn’t always a guarantee.
Because the bill was so old in Neal’s case, the school’s counterfeit pen wouldn’t work on it so Fort Bend ISD police launched a Dragnet-style investigation that tracked it from Neal’s grandmother back to a convenience store and then to a bank.
“She’s never in trouble, so I was nervous going in there,” Neal’s grandmother, Sharon Joseph said. “[Officials asked] ‘Did you give Danesiah a $2 bill for lunch?’ [and then] told me it was fake.”
The bill wasn’t fake however, and no charges were filed against the teen, but Joseph maintains that terrifying students with felony charges over something so minute is not the way that such situations should be handled.
Joseph said the bill was returned to her and that she and her granddaughter didn’t even receive an apology from police or school administrators despite Neal being forced to miss lunch that day because her money was taken.
“It was very outrageous for them to do it,” she said. “There was no need for police involvement. They’re charging kids like they’re adults now.”
Other cases in the area have resulted in students being handcuffed and arrested. That was what happened to a 13-year-old seventh grader at Cy-Fair Independent School District’s Cook Middle School, who is currently awaiting trail on felony forgery charges over a $10 bill that did turn out to be fake.
Attorneys for that student say the teen has been requisitioned to alternative school and faces two to 10 years in prison for a bill that looked and felt real. Additionally, it is said that the student qualified for free lunch at the school and that parents even offered to compensate administrators to no avail.
“He comes to school the next day and he gets arrested and charged with a third-degree felony,” the teen’s attorney, Mani Nezami said. “He’s in seventh grade. He doesn’t handle money that much. They put him in handcuffs. They put him in a police car, the whole bit. He could face years in jail or prison.”
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