A DeKalb County High School freshman, who allegedly made threats against other students and school system employees in a "hit list" found at school last week, pleaded guilty to committing a delinquent act as well as violation of probation in a previous drug case against him in Juvenile Court Thursday morning.
Judge Bratten Cook, II ordered that fourteen year old Justin Manley be placed in state custody where he will receive counseling and treatment for his drug use, behavior problems, and a condition he is believed to suffer from called "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder" (ADHD).
Manley, who appeared before the judge, alongside members of his family and attorney, Jeremy Trapp, apologized to people he named on the "hit list" and their families. " I'd like to apologize to all the parents here because of me. I've thought about it long and hard and realize it's probably the most ignorant thing I could have done and I'm sorry."
Last Monday, April 12th, the DCHS school resource officer Kenneth Whitehead was informed by other students that Manley had a hit list. The list, with written threats against seventeen students, DeKalb West Principal Danny Parkerson, bus driver/transportation supervisor Peggy Pursell and a high school teacher, was apparently found in a backpack at Manley's locker.
The list was confiscated and Manley was taken into custody, removed from school, and placed in the juvenile detention center in Cookeville, where he apparently remained until Thursday's hearing.
During questioning by his lawyer, Trapp, Manley said Thursday that he did not intend to harm anyone and that he made out the list to just "clear his head"
Attorney Jeremy Trapp- "Tell the court why you wrote that"
Manley-"To clear my head"
Trapp- "Did you show that letter or give it to anybody?"
Manley- "No sir"
Trapp- "Where did they find it?"
Trapp- "Is that the way you vent, to write it down on paper?"
Trapp- "Did you ever mean to show that to anybody or scare anybody with it?"
Manley- "No sir"
Trapp-"Did you intend any harm out of that?"
Manley- "No sir"
Trapp- "But you understand now how serious that can be?"
Manley- "Yes sir"
Trapp- "Do you understand the school taking action the way they did?"
Manley- "Yes sir"
Trapp also questioned Officer Whitehead along with Patrick Cripps and David Gash, members of the high school administration. All three said that Manley had not been involved in any fights at school, although Gash added that on one occasion, " We had a report that he was going to have a fight. Deputy Whitehead and myself, we went around the campus and found him walking around, but there was never any actual altercation"
Manley's probation officer also said she never saw Manley "that angry".
The "hit list" incident, however, was not Manley's first encounter with the court. In December, 2009 Manley appeared in Juvenile Court on a charge of simple possession. He was placed on probation. Less than a month ago, as part of his probation, Manley was drug tested and the result showed he had used marijuana and Xanax. Because of the failed drug test and the delinquent act offense, Manley was also facing a violation of his probation, which he pled guilty to Thursday.
Manley has also had a series of misbehavior incidents at school this year including at least eight unexcused absences, at least three suspensions from riding the school bus, not participating in class, being disruptive, uncooperative, and annoying classmates, among others
Manley comes from a broken home. His mother and father divorced several years ago. Manley had lived with his mother until January, 2009, when he came to DeKalb County to live with his father.
Manley's mother, who lives at Hermitage and has legal custody of Manley, asked the court to place him with her and that she would make sure he received the counseling and treatment he needs at a center in Memphis. "I have been employed at the Nashville airport but I'm a home mom now. I will be with him 24/7. His step-father owns a business in Nashville. He is self employed, so he is in and out all the time. We have an in-house alarm system to where there's no way he can get out of the home without that alarm going off. I would be by his side constantly making those trips to Memphis, checking on his progress and communicating with the doctors and the people he's having therapy with."
Manley's mother added that if her son was in her care, she would see that he was home schooled. "He was hard to handle and he had behavior problems in school (when he lived with her). I got calls from teachers all the time, but never this serious. He doesn't cope well in school and I plan to home school him."
Trapp appealed to the judge to grant Manley's mother's request. "As far as the imminent threat, getting physical, there's two experts (evaluators, counselors) that didn't see any imminent risk of violence. There are some drug and behavioral issues and he needs some medication. There's no question that he has issues to work out. But his mother will do everything she can to make sure that he gets the proper treatment that he needs. She is an in-home mom and can be there 24/7. She anticipates sending him to this Memphis facility."
Judge Cook however was not convinced. " Looking at the psychological evaluation, it looks to me like there's a lot of issues that need to be addressed. Through no fault of your own, sounds like you (Manley) were raised in a home that was not calm, quiet, collected, and nurturing. There's nothing you could have done about that. That's just the circumstances of your mom and dad. I'm sure that brought on some of the problems that you have. Reading this evaluation, the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), looks like a significant problem that you might can deal with if treated."
"I think there's a lot of things you (Manley) need that you might could get if I left you in your mom's home or your dads home and I say might because I would be deferring to them to get you the help that I know that the state will provide If I put you in state custody."
"I accept your explanation that it was the stupidest thing you could have done. And I think your apology to these people was sincere, but still it's stupid. In the day and age that we live today, you cannot do something that stupid and not suffer a substantial consequence as a result of it. Part of the whole judicial system's job is to protect people. And here when you have a specific threat, even though you say I didn't mean it, you have to take it seriously because if I just slap you on the wrist and let you go and then all of a sudden you decide to get a gun and start shooting these people, then I'm not sure I'd ever sleep well another night of my life. I'm not willing to take that chance. Plus, there's just a lot of treatment that you need son. So I'm not going to defer to your parents to get that (treatment) when I know if I put you in state custody that you're going to get the help you need because I'll monitor the case and make sure you do. Hopefully you won't be there too terribly long. A lot of that depends upon you. Your behavior. Whether you cooperate with the treatment, the counseling, taking the medication, a lot of that depends on you."
Judge Cook added " I want you (Manley) to end up being a successful, responsible person but you're going to have to learn to follow the rules and if you don't there's going to be some consequences you're going to have to suffer, and not good ones."