Now Reading
Sahuarita declines to release name of online-threat suspect

Note: This story is more than 3 years old.

Sahuarita declines to release name of online-threat suspect

Sahuarita police have declined to release the name of the teenager arrested after an online threat led to the closure of nine Sahuarita schools Oct.1, saying they want to protect his identity because of negative comments on social media.

Police initially told the Sahuarita Sun that they wouldn't release the name or details because it might harm the investigation.

The newspaper doesn't intend to publish the boy's name but needs it to follow the case through the court system, editor Dan Shearer said.

"It's rare that we would print the name of a minor involved in a crime, and this doesn't even come close," Shearer said. "But that's not the issue here. There is just one question Sahuarita police should ask: Is this a public record? It doesn't matter what we or anybody else might do with it."

The first threat was made late Sept. 29 on Instagram and other social media sites, and was traced to a former SUSD student now living in Puerto Rico. The juvenile admitted he made the post and the case has been turned over to the FBI. The second threat was made the afternoon of Sept. 30. A 13-year-old Sahuarita boy was questioned that day and arrested on suspicion of making a terrorist threat, interference/disruption of an educational institution and use of electronic device to threaten.

Police spokesman Lt. Sam Almodova said the town's legal department cited Arizona Revised Statute 13-501 for its decision not to release the boy's name. That statute addresses charging a juvenile as an adult and has nothing to do with Arizona Public Records Law.

The Sahuarita Sun contacted Phoenix attorney Dan Barr, who specializes in media and constitutional law.

In an Oct. 9 letter to the town, Barr cited case law on inspection of public records, saying, "the records at issue are 'records reasonably necessary or appropriate to maintain an accurate knowledge of any of the Sahuarita Police Department's official activities…'"

Barr also noted that the police department bears the legal burden of showing "the probability that specific, material harm will result from disclosure."

Sahuarita Town Attorney Dan Hochuli acknowledged in an Oct. 11 letter that they initially cited an incorrect statute. He then cited case law that, in essence, said releasing the name is a judgment call — the public's right to "openness in government" verses confidentiality "in the best interests of the state" and those involved, a reference to the juvenile and his family.

"In this particular case, the family's privacy interests far exceed the public's right to the suspect's name," Hochuli wrote.

He cited several social media posts that used profanity and other strong language to disparage the juvenile suspects.

"The irresponsible release of the names of suspects and witnesses would likely lead to significant harm to our community and families of children as young as 13 years old," Hochuli wrote.

Dale Cardy, who heads the juvenile division of the Pima County Attorney's Office, said Monday they had not yet received the case from Sahuarita police. After they receive it, he will consult with County Attorney Barbara LaWall about whether to release the name.

Shearer said not having the name means the public might not know which charges, if any, are eventually brought or what punishment might be handed down.

"We believe the families of every SUSD student who stayed home Oct. 1 have an overwhelming and overriding interest in how this turns out," Shearer said. "If the town denied information every time a mean-spirited social media post was made, we'd never get anything out of them."

This report was first published by the Sahuarita Sun.

— 30 —

Top headlines

Best in Internet Exploder