LEBANON, Tenn. (WKRN) — As District Attorney for the 15th District, Jason Lawson oversees Wilson, Macon, Smith, Jackson, and Trousdale counties. He explained the juvenile docket is stacked with students participating in similar crimes. “The most prevalent crime we have is vaping,” Lawson said.
The second most prevalent is unfiltered dialogue, including social media posts meant to provoke. “That has really led to a dramatic increase in the number of school fights we’ve had,” Lawson said.
Beyond assault, there’s a collection of crimes tied to digital devices. “Everything from school threats to inappropriate photographs, to social media bullying.”
Lawson said they are all masked in assumed anonymity. “That is the biggest misconception that young people have when it comes to social media.”
Regardless of how an app is advertised, it’s not anonymous.
“Usually within 48 hours,” Lawson explained, “those people are sitting down at a table with law enforcement about what they put on social media.”
One such crime caught the eye of state lawmakers, evoking change in the form of a new statute. This is the first school year where making a threat of violence against a school, and failure to report a threat, are both crimes.
“The law from the General Assembly has been helpful. When you have a piece of law that’s specifically tailored to a problem, it certainly makes it easier than trying to find a more general statute and try to make it fit a situation that it was never intended for,” Lawson said.
Officials promised to use the new statute when applicable.
“We’re going to try to impose a zero-tolerance policy. We want people to know if they’re going to go ahead and say something like this, that they’re going to go through our court system and face a judge over it,” Lawson explained.
The law has already been put into action. “We’ve had some at Green Hill High School, we’ve had some at Lebanon High School, we’ve had some at Trousdale County High School, and Smith County, specifically Gordonsville.”
Crime in school is evolving and educators are concerned – News 2 is investigating what school districts are doing about it. Find more special reports on Crime in School on WKRN.com.
Most suspects are juveniles whose records are sealed. “There are still consequences. There are still court costs. There’s still services. There could be community service hours,” Lawson said.
It’s a different story for students already 18 who are tried in adult court. “It’s a class A Misdemeanor,” Lawson continued, “which means they could face up to 11 months and 29 days of a sentence.”