No criminal charges will be filed against a Columbus East High School teacher suspended last week by Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. after leaving a hunting rifle in his truck in the school parking lot.
State law says a person who legally possesses a firearm and who knowingly, intentionally or recklessly leaves the firearm in plain view in a motor vehicle in a school parking lot commits a Class A misdemeanor. Exceptions are included in the law if the gun is locked in a car trunk or glove box.
However, Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash said he reviewed the Columbus Police Department report about the rifle found in teacher Mike Metz’s truck Thursday and concluded the circumstances described would not lead to a conviction because he could not prove Metz knowingly, intentionally or recklessly left the rifle in the truck.
“We would have to prove it wasn’t an accident or a mistake that the gun was left in the truck,” Nash said.
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After reviewing the evidence, Nash said he did not believe Metz intended to bring the gun to school.
The reckless aspect of the statute was also not met, Nash said, because it would involve proving that Metz made a conscious, unjustifiable decision to take the gun to school outside the acceptable standard of conduct.
Nash said he couldn’t prove that Metz even intended to leave the gun in plain view, as it didn’t appear to be visible to him when he was driving the truck, according to photos of the incident.
“The legislature didn’t make this statute (gun on school property) a strict liability offense,” Nash said, referring to the state’s operating-while-intoxicated law as an example of strict liability. In Indiana, if you test .08 blood-alcohol content as a driver, it doesn’t matter what your intentions were, Nash said.
However, the strict liability aspect is missing from the gun-on-school property law, making the need to provide evidence of intention and recklessness as part of the offense, he said.
The incident began at 8:49 a.m. when two students reported what appeared to be a rifle in plain view on a passenger seat in Metz’s truck, which was parked in the teachers’ lot near the C4 classrooms at East, police said.
Metz, who has worked for BCSC as a workplace specialist in different construction technology trades since 2006, told police he had been coyote hunting and mistakenly left the gun in his pickup when he went to work that day. At the scene, Metz took responsibility for making a mistake of leaving the gun in the truck, school officials said.
BCSC school officials as of Tuesday afternoon had not announced whether there would be any penalties against Metz, other than suspending him while an investigation was conducted. Soon after Thursday’s incident was reported, Metz was asked by school officials not to return to either Columbus East or Columbus North buildings until the matter was reviewed by school personnel.
Nash released the Columbus police reports about the incident, which said officer Richard Howell went to the high school parking lot at the request of school resource officer Julie Quesenbery. Howell was on a special patrol at East when the call came in, and Quesenbery asked for help to determine if any officers were closer than she was to the truck.
The officer found East Dean David Miller and Metz near the teacher’s tan pickup.
Miller reported that Metz was apologetic and stated he understood how this could upset people due to the recent events involving a Florida school shooting and several incidents at local schools involving threats, including two at Columbus East.
In photos Columbus police took at the scene, the rifle is shown barrel down on the passenger side of the pickup with the barrel on the floorboard and the stock wedged up against the console.
The rifle was wedged beside the vehicle console on the passenger side, shielding it from view from the driver’s seat, Nash said. This led Nash to consider whether Metz could even see the gun from the driver’s seat that morning.
Howell noted in the police report the rifle had a bolt action and the action was open, which would make the gun unable to fire.
“I did not confirm this, but the gun did not appear to be loaded,” Howell said in the report. “I also did not observe any ammunition in plain view.”
The officer said windows of the truck were slightly tinted and in his opinion, the rifle would not have been easily visible to someone casually walking by.
Beyond the state law, BCSC school policy prohibits staff members from possessing, storing, making or using a weapon in any setting within the school corporation, although it allows for the state law exception for locking it in a trunk or glove box.
Miller told Metz that morning that he would supervise the rest of Metz’s class, and officers asked Metz to take the gun home, the report stated.