Teen’s pencil toss turns into felony charge (archives, 2005)

Patrick Ortiz with his mother, Theresa

Patrick Ortiz with his mother, Theresa

SPRING HILL – What Patrick Ortiz did Tuesday morning got him taken from Fox Chapel Middle School in handcuffs and booked at Hernando County Jail.

It got him suspended from school.

It got him three weeks of house arrest.

It got him charged with a third-degree felony.

And it could get him expelled.

He is charged with battery on a school employee. A Hernando County Sheriff’s Office arrest report details the allegations.

In the section “Weapons,” under the heading “Weapon Type,” the report notes:

“Other.”

Under “Caliber,” it states:

“Pencil.”

Patrick, 15, faces a felony charge because he tossed a mechanical pencil that struck a school custodian in the shoulder. The custodian, Kevin Gable, was not injured. According to the report, he did sustain a “small pencil mark on (his) T-shirt, on the right sleeve.”

As for the “weapon,” it disappeared, according to the report: “The pencil in question was unable to be located at the scene.”

On Wednesday, Patrick and his mother protested his being charged with felony battery over a pencil toss. The Sheriff’s Office defended the arrest, stating it followed followed correct protocol. And the custodian who chose to press charges wasn’t talking.

“It’s none of y’all’s business,” Gable said.

Patrick and his mother, Theresa, spoke about the matter Wednesday at their Spring Hill home.

The eighth-grader, 5-foot-8 and 130 pounds, wore a white T-shirt and pajama bottoms that sported a breakfast cereal motif: a repeating pattern of the Kellogg’s logo, “Frosted Flakes” and the cereal’s icon, Tony the Tiger.

He has flowing, soft dark hair and delicate features. His friends call him “Patty.”

And while he’s a long sight from perfect, his mom contends, he’s no serious threat to school custodians or anyone else.

“Look, he’s no angel,” said Theresa Ortiz, a single mother who has five sons, including three teenagers and a 10-year-old. “They think he’s a little punk because he has a mouth on him. But it’s not like he’s out bothering anybody. I mean, a pencil?”

“We have a victim there who is a school employee who wants to press charges, and . . . that’s battery, that’s what the proper charge is,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Donna Black said.

“If you look at it from a teacher’s perspective, thank God it didn’t hit the custodian in the eye,” Black said. “Often the only recourse teachers have (when assaulted by students) is to have law enforcement step in and press charges.”

The battery by pencil occurred shortly after 9 a.m. Tuesday. Patrick contends he did not intend to strike Gable, the custodian, who was seated in a golf cart.

Patrick said he had borrowed the pencil earlier from a friend who was standing next to Gable. When he tossed it back to the friend, he said, it bounced off the friend’s hand and hit Gable’s shoulder.

However, the sheriff’s deputy who investigated the incident quoted Patrick’s friend as saying Patrick intentionally hit Gable with the pencil because he did not like him.

The 15-year-old student and 19-year-old custodian have a history.

In February, Gable contacted the Sheriff’s Office, saying that Patrick and another Fox Chapel student harassed him and called him names outside the Spring Hill Lanes bowling alley.

Gable told a sheriff’s deputy that Patrick and his friend were among as many as 15 teenagers who encircled Gable’s truck and tried to provoke him into a fight.

No charges were filed in the incident, and the report was filed under “possible gang activity.”

That strikes a chord with Theresa Ortiz, who said two of her older sons have been accused of being gang members. That reputation, she said, might prejudice school officials against Patrick.

“I think it’s all because of those two, and I don’t think that’s fair,” she said. Jim Knight, Hernando County schools’ student services director, said that kids accused of assaulting school district personnel are automatically recommended for expulsion.

Until the School Board rules on that recommendation, the student typically is suspended. School staffers are required to report potential crimes to the Sheriff’s Office, he said, and it is the office’s decision whether to charge a student with a crime. Fox Chapel principal Dave Schoelles was not available for comment.

Theresa Ortiz acknowledged that Patrick gets in trouble from time to time.

In February, he was charged with dealing in stolen property over what he calls a misunderstanding involving a PlayStation 2 video game system. And he’s been disciplined over wearing bandanas and the like that school officials equate to gang wear.

But Patrick is no gang member, his mother said. And if he had hurt someone by throwing the pencil, whether it was intentional or not, “I would have sent him to (the Juvenile Justice facility) in Ocala myself.”

(Originally published August 2005 in the St. Petersburg Times, which holds the copyright.)

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