ATTLEBORO — After only 45 minutes of deliberation this afternoon, an Attleboro District Court jury acquitted a North Attleboro High School student of threatening to shoot up his school last year.
Patrick Skrabec, who spent six days in jail over the Christmas holiday after his arrest, was found innocent of threatening to commit a crime and disturbing a school assembly after a two-day trial.
He was 17 when he was arrested Dec. 21, 2012, by North Attleboro police after an investigation into statements Skrabec made about shooting up the school while in math class three days earlier. Skrabec claimed he was only joking with a friend.
After the verdict, Skrabec’s father, Neil, who grew emotional testifying on his son’s behalf, hugged his wife in the seat beside him. The couple has attended every court appearance with their son. Then he walked up to his son at the defense table and hugged him and his lawyer, Maria Deaton of Providence.
He also thanked the jurors and shook their hands as they filed out of the courtroom before directing his ire at those he held responsible for his son’s ordeal.
“I think the detective involved in this case and the chief should be embarrassed and ashamed for what they’ve put my family and my son through in the past 14 months,” Neil Skrabec said, referring to Detective Daniel Arrighi and Police Chief John Reilly.
He also said Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter should be “embarrassed and ashamed.”
“As police officials, they need to be held to a higher standard of behavior,” Skrabec said, adding that he will consult with his lawyer to discuss his legal options when asked whether he would file a lawsuit.
Skrabec emphasized his comments were not directed at other members of the police department.
“I respect what they do. I couldn’t do their jobs,” Skrabec said.
“I don’t want any other high school student to experience what my son experienced in this case,” Skrabec said.
Throughout the case, Skrabec said, he and his family conducted themselves “with dignity and courage.”
He and his family, including his son Patrick, are involved in St. Mary’s Church activities and volunteer at a community food pantry collecting food for the needy. He said his family will continue to “support North Attleboro and make it a better community for all.”
When reached for comment, Reilly issued a statement saying: “The members of the North Attleboro Police Department are dedicated to our fundamental responsibilities, which include the protection of life and property and the prevention and control of crime. That being said, we respect the criminal justice system and we respect the jury’s verdict in this case.”
Patrick Skrabec, who is now 18, did not testify in his own behalf and declined to comment afterward. He was allowed to return to school last year to complete his junior year and is expected to graduate this spring.
According to testimony from witnesses, the teenager was a quiet student who was never in trouble before or after the incident, had good attendance at school and good grades. He did not have a gun or access to guns.
During her closing argument, Deaton said her client made the comment jokingly to a friend in math class during a discussion about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre that had occurred days earlier.
“Maybe it was in poor taste and maybe it was inappropriate. But that doesn’t mean he is a criminal or had criminal intent,” Deaton told the jury.
The defense lawyer argued that because of all the school shootings in the modern age, people now learn about them quickly through the media, and they are hyped up on the news.
In her client’s case, Deaton said rumors swirling around the school about “hit lists” and weapons in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting were so rampant that North Attleboro school officials held an assembly to urge students to report anything suspicious.
Deaton, who aggressively cross-examined Arrighi, assailed the detective in her closing argument for being to quick to arrest her client without speaking to other students in the class, the teacher or other school officials involved.
Under cross-examination, Arrighi defended himself, saying he began the probe when a parent who wanted to remain anonymous complained after his daughter received text messages from Skrabec. He said he followed up by talking to Skrabec, two students present with him at the time and the assistant principal before deciding to arrest Skrabec.
He testified Skrabec admitted to making the comment about shooting up the school and that one of the students was shocked by his statement. The videotape of the interrogation was played for the jury.
A student who heard the comment testified she thought it was “frightening” and used a ruse to leave class to report it to school officials. She also testified she returned to school afterward.
Another classmate who is friends with Skrabec testified he was only joking.
Assistant District Attorney Anthony Riccio reminded the jury about the anxious atmosphere and rumors at North Attleboro High School in the days following the Sandy Hook shootings and said there was no excuse for Skrabec’s statement.
“Just because it was a mistake does not make it excusable. It doesn’t mean it’s not a crime,” Riccio said, adding that children “have a right to feel safe at their school.”
Despite the nervous school climate, Riccio said, “What did Patrick Skrabec do? He threatened to shoot up the school.”
He reminded the jury that one student was so scared she left class to report the comment to school administrators and that Skrabec lied to Joseph Beasley, the assistant principal, when he was confronted about the statement.
“I will leave you with this: If Patrick Skrabec was joking, why did he deny making the statement to the vice principal when he was asked about it,” Riccio said.
Skrabec was initially charged last year with a felony charge and was held in jail without bail for six days over the Christmas holiday after the prosecution requested a dangerousness hearing.
A judge denied the prosecution’s request to continue holding Skrabec in jail as a dangerous person. Two months later, the felony charge was dropped, keeping the case in district court for trial.