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editorial - herald _ 2/27/01

February 26, 2001

Is assault charge tough enough for girl's alleged e-mail threat?



A Jefferson County, W.Va., high school senior, apparently upset because the date of this year's graduation had been changed, has been charged with misdemeanor assault for allegedly sending an e-mail with racial overtones to Larry Togans, a black man who is president of the county board of education.

Two top officials of the NAACP say the incident called for more serious charges, but there's nothing to prevent federal officials from putting together their own case a month from now. Before that happens, defendant Sarah Elizabeth Turner may find that the publicity alone is more punishment than she could have imagined.

A number of seniors at Jefferson High were upset this year by the school board's decision to hold graduation on June 9 rather than on June 3. Some students had made arrangements to report for military training between June 4 and June 7, which meant they would miss the ceremony.

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On Feb. 11, school board officials received an e-mail directed to Togan's attention, which said, in part "I will put you in so much pain that you will wish you were dead." "Ya know it's pretty bad when people I know, myself included, who are not prejudiced, commented that there was going to be a lynching, get a rope, and find a tree."

Turner was arrested after Charles Town Police Cpl. Steve Harris went on line, posing as a Jefferson High student and allegedly got Turner to admit that she sent the e-mail, because, according to a police transcript, "I have a bad temper as it is and I just totally lost it."

Police said Turner was upset because the graduation date allegedly interfered with her plans to join the military. She was not charged with a hate crime, police said, because the threat was allegedly made not because Togans was black, but because he was head of the school board.

If the charges are proven, we have a difficult time believing that the military would accept an enlistee with such a record. And private companies might also be reluctant to associate themselves with any person who would make such a threat.

Like all defendants, Turner is entitled to be presumed innocent until she's been proven guilty. But the racial aspect of these charges ensures that unlike the usual assault charge, this one will draw nationwide attention and scrutiny.

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