A Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. teacher who inadvertently left an unloaded rifle in his truck parked at Columbus East High School has been suspended without pay for three weeks.
Mike Metz, who has been a workplace specialist in different construction technology trades at Columbus Area Career Connections (C4) since 2006, is suspended without pay through March 29, school officials said Wednesday.
The suspension will cost the teacher more than $3,000 in pay.
“It was an honest mistake,” Metz said of the March 1 incident.
Metz said he had been coyote hunting the night of Feb. 28 and returned home after dark. It was raining, and he removed items from the back of the pickup truck and decided to get items in the cab later.
In the morning, it was dark when Metz left for school, and he got into the truck with a couple of things he had to do before arriving at work and “spaced it” that he had left the rifle in the pickup on the passenger side, he said.
The rifle had been broken down so that it could not be fired, and there was no ammunition in the pickup, which was locked, Metz said.
Two students told East officials they saw what appeared to be a rifle in plain view on the passenger seat in Metz’s truck at 8:49 a.m. March 1, police said.
“Anybody who knows me knows I didn’t do it on purpose,” Metz said. “It wasn’t a threat.”
However, the mistake occurred at the worst possible time, following a week of several school threats in Bartholomew County and a fatal school shooting two weeks earlier in Florida, he said.
Columbus East school resource officer Julie Quesenbery asked for help from other city police officers when the gun matter was reported. Officer Richard Howell, who was patrolling near the school, found Columbus East dean David Miller and Metz at the pickup when he arrived.
Metz explained that he had been hunting and accidentally left the rifle in the truck, police said. At the scene, Metz took responsibility for making the mistake of leaving the gun in the truck and apologized, saying he knew how it could upset people due to the recent school-threat events, including two at Columbus East.
In photos taken by the police department, 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 large center console of the truck.
Howell noted in his report that the rifle had a bolt action and the action was open, meaning the gun could not be fired. The officer also said he did not see any ammunition in plain view and the gun did not appear to be loaded.
Metz was told to take the gun home and asked not to return to either Columbus East or North buildings pending a review by BCSC administrators.
State law says a person who legally possesses a firearm and knowingly, intentionally or recklessly leaves the firearm in plain view in a motor vehicle in a school parking lot commits a Class A misdemeanor. The law has an exception that it is not illegal to have a gun locked out of sight in a car trunk or glove box while on school property, a change that went into effect in Indiana four years ago.
However, BCSC 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 of the firearm being locked out of sight in a trunk or glove box.
Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash said Tuesday he would not file criminal charges against Metz for leaving the hunting rifle in his truck.
Nash said he concluded the circumstances described in the police report would not lead to a conviction because he could not prove Metz knowingly, intentionally or recklessly left the rifle in the truck. After reviewing the police reports and photos, Nash said he did not believe Metz intended to bring the gun to school.
The prosecutor also pointed out that evidence photos show the rifle wedged behind the center console on the passenger side of the pickup, shielding it from view from the driver’s seat. Nash said based on the photo evidence, it is possible Metz did not know the gun was there when he parked in the school lot the morning of March 1.
Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. prohibits staff members from possessing, storing, making or using a weapon in any setting, including schools, school property, a corporation vehicle or at a school-sponsored event. An exception is allowed as permitted in state law that a gun may be kept in the glove compartment or trunk of the staff members’ locked vehicle.
School policy prohibits students from having a firearm in or on school property unless it is a high school student who is a member of a shooting sports team and the principal has approved the student keeping a firearm concealed in the student’s vehicle on the days the student is competing or practicing for the team.
The policy states the superintendent will report an employee who violates the policy to law enforcement and that the employee will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination for violation of the policy.
The weapons rules do not apply to weapons under the control of law enforcement, as well as a school resource officer or school security personnel who are not law enforcement officers.
The policy allows weapons to be used as part of a class or individual presentation under adult supervision, but only with the approval of the principal and no working firearms or ammunition are allowed. Theatrical props may be used in appropriate settings and starter pistols at school-related sporting events are allowed.
Staff members are required to report weapons or threats of violence by students, staff members or visitors to the principal. Failure to report may subject the staff member to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
Source: Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.