Judge hammers juveniles in Morenci gun incident

Morenci Superintendent David Woodall believes the recent school voucher legislation is a bad bill for rural schools.

Two are sentenced to state juvenile prison

By Gualterio Casias

It is a wooden gavel that Greenlee County Superior Court Judge Monica Stauffer uses. However, for three juveniles involved in a Jan. 27 gun-waving incident near Morenci High School, the gavel probably seemed more like a hammer.

The sentencings took place March 21. Two of the three, who are all Morenci High School students, have been sent to a state prison for juveniles and the other is doing time in the Eastern Arizona Regional Juvenile Detention Facility (EARJDF) in Safford.

Two other juveniles were taken into custody later that day after sending threats via SnapChat to one or more of the three who were initially arrested. They were sentenced by Stauffer in late February.

Of the three arrested in the gun-waving incident, a 14-year-old juvenile who received the hardest sentence, more than a year in prison, had been found guilty of waving a gun at the occupants of a pickup truck. The vehicle drove by them as the three stood near the “M” located on a hillside across a street from the high school. The juvenile and a person in the truck reportedly had an ongoing conflict.

The juvenile was found guilty of conspiracy to commit aggravated assault with a deadly weapon or instrument; two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument and a minor in possession of a firearm.

Contributed Photo/Courtesy Greenlee County Attorney’s Office: This gun, along with drug paraphernalia, was found in one of the students’ bag inside a gym locker.

Stauffer sentenced him to no less than 14 months in the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections (ADJC).

In her sentencing of the three, the judge addressed “First Time Adjudication For Felony Offense,” which carries a very strong warning to all three about becoming repeat felony offenders. Judge Stauffer also commented that she felt the sentences were in the best interest of the community and the defendants.

Minutes of each sentencing read “You have been adjudicated as a first time felony juvenile offender. You are now on notice that if you are adjudicated of a subsequent offense that would be a felony if committed by an adult and you are 14 years of age or older you will be prosecuted as an adult; be committed to the Arizona Department of Corrections; be placed on juvenile intensive probation.”

The intensive probation can include home arrest, electric monitoring and incarceration in a juvenile detention facility.

The second youth, who is 15, was sentenced by Stauffer to ADJC to serve a minimum of seven months and 24 days, with credit for 54 days served at the Safford complex.

The third juvenile, also 15, was sentenced to 200 days in the Safford juvenile detention facility.


According to Morenci Schools Superintendent David Woodall, during the lunch period of Jan. 21, the three were seen in possession of a gun while they were on a street just across from the high school campus. He said students who saw the three immediately reported it to school officials who in turn immediately contacted Clifton police.

No lockdown of the school was put into effect as police made an immediate response. Clifton Police Sgt. Jason Mingura was immediately on the scene, as were Greenlee County Sheriff’s deputies.

Clifton Police Chief Omar Negrete said school officials observed as police searched the  three students’ lockers, which containing clothing and other items. “We were able to retrieve a pistol,” the chief said. A 22-caliber pistol was found in one of the student’s backpack. He said the students were handcuffed and taken into custody and were later released to juvenile authorities from the Greenlee County Probation Department.

‘We’re proud of students who immediately reported (what they saw),” Woodall said.


In a related matter, threatening cell phone messages involving the incident and directed to one of the three arrested, were discovered. One of those messages involved a parent alerting her son to clear anything in their house that may be incriminating because police might arrive at their residence to ask questions involving the phone messages. The son was not present at the gun incident but became at least indirectly involved via the messages.

Of the two students involved in the SnapChat, one was sentenced to 203 days in a juvenile detention facility. The other was sentenced to 20 days in a detention facility and is required to perform 50 hours of community service. In addition, he will be on probation for one year.

Contributed Photo/Courtesy Greenlee County Attorney’s Office: Snapchat threats were reported in suspected retaliation for the boys’ arrests.

As for the incident directly involving the three students, two of them pointed the finger at each other during separate interviews with school officials and law enforcement officers. The third student initially said he did not see anything but later recanted and told officials he did see one of his partners pull “something out of a backpack.”

After the interviews and despite the conflicting accounts, all three were detained and taken to the juvenile correctional facility in Safford. Of the three first taken into custody, each was initially charged with two counts of misconduct involving a weapon. One was additionally charged with threatening and intimidating while another was also charged with possession of drug paraphernalia.

Prior to the interviews, school officials contacted the students’ parents to advise them of the situation. The interviews were conducted with parents present. Each student was also advised of his juvenile Miranda Rights. All said they understood their rights.

Before being interviewed, one of the subjects was located in the high school gym by law enforcement,  Sgt. Mingura, Greenlee County Sheriff Tim Sumner and a school official.

The student was handcuffed and patted down by Mingura to determine if the he possessed any weapons. He did not and was escorted to the gymnasium locker rooms where he identified bags belonging to him.

One of the three youths said one of his companions had shown him a pistol he had in his possession that morning. It was initially in the companion’s jacket  that had a hole in the lining in which the pistol was being carried.

A witness to the incident said he saw a pistol being retrieved from a black backpack that was lying on the ground when the trio was at the “M.” The witness said he saw a pickup truck stop in front of the trio and someone in the truck rolled down a window. The 14-year-old began “throwing up his arms” and reached into the backpack from which he produced the pistol and reportedly began waving it around, but did not aim it at the truck.

As the truck took off one of the persons in the vehicle reportedly shouted to the pistol-bearing youth, “I’ll get you next time.” The confrontation apparently occurred because of a personal conflict between one of the people in the truck and the youth with the gun.

One of the three who were taken into custody and had previously said he did not see anything, changed his story. He said that the individual who ended up waving the gun told the companion who had the gun in his backpack to “give me the gun, give me the gun.” It was then that he approached the truck, gun in hand.

Later, when officials searched the backpack belonging to the student who initially said he did not see anything, they found the gun and evidence of drug use. According to a report by Sgt. Mingura, drug paraphernalia was found in the backpack. That included a two-inch blue smoking pipe with residue in its bowl, a round gold marijuana grinder with green residue, a small, clear baggie with green residue, a small plastic cigarette with residue, a clear foil baggie with a marijuana stem and zigzag rolling papers. All of those items were found in an orange pill bottle.

During inspection of the weapon, police found that it had been scratched in an apparent attempt to conceal the weapon’s serial number. They also learned that the gun had been obtained by one of the three from a parent’s bedroom. It had been located under a mattress.

The story does not end there. A Greenlee County probation officer found a cell phone belonging to yet another student. It had “SnapChat” messages containing threats that apparently involved the gun incident. The messages involved two other youths who are students at MHS, both of whom are on probation but neither of whom were observed at the incident. Discovery of the cell phone and its messages, along with the students’ probation status, gave authorities cause to search their homes and they did so.

A message on one of the youth’s phones was from his mother warning him to “tell the cops u were hurt about ur friends going to jail. (sic)” The mom’s message also read “make sure u clean up ur (expletive deleted) they (authorities) might go there next (sic).”

Prior to the cell phone messages being discovered, police spoke with the youth’s mother and gained her permission to search the home.  They found a “Vapes” used to ingest nicotine, a detox drink and a small, clear baggie with brown residue and no odor to it. The mother told officers she found the baggie outside the home and the bag had it had seeds in it when she brought it into the house. She said she had no recollection of how the baggie got into her son’s room.

Her comments to police appeared to sharply conflict with the cell phone message she had sent to her son.