Deal for UVA gun scare students
A little over a month after four UVA students were arrested and charged with brandishing a firearm during the filming of a class project, prosecutors and defense have reached a deal which clears the students of wrongdoing, but requires them to pay reparations and perform community service.
The charges will officially be dismissed in August, and if the students stay out of trouble, their records will be expunged after three years. The students, Caroline Choe, Jerry Hsieh, Eric Chau, and Christopher Allen Smith must pay approximately $400 each to reimburse Charlottesville and UVA police and for the medical expenses of a student who was taken to the hospital and treated for a panic attack as a result of the incident. They also must perform 50 hours of community service.
"We wanted to make it real clear that everyone believed that the police responded appropriately and effectively on what happened the week before," says Charles Sipe, attorney for Smith, the first student arrested and charged after the Monday, April 23 incident, which came on the heels of the April 16 massacre at Virginia Tech."I think everybody's happy," says Sipe.
Choe, reached in Northern Virginia where she's home for the summer, says the four are grateful that Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Camblos was amenable to a deal. "We're relieved that we're not being convicted," says Choe. Still, she adds, "I feel like the consequences are a little more extreme than anyone had expected." Choe says each of them will have to pay close to $600 including court costs. "Financially, it's not the easiest situation," she says.
More than anything, it may have been the timing of the incident that prompted such an extreme reaction from students and police. At just past 11pm on Monday, April 23, Choe, Hsieh, Chau and Smith were outside Wilsdorf Hall, an engineering building, filming a scene for a Japanese class final project. Choe, Hsieh and Smith were enrolled in the class; they'd recruited Chau to hold the camera that night.
Part of the scene– set in Tokyo– involved a robbery, and Smith– the only non-Asian in the group– had donned a black outfit and was carrying a broken plastic BB gun that Choe had provided. The gun was not loaded, and its trigger was broken off. As Smith passed a first floor window in Wilsdorf, he saw a student inside appear to become frightened. Smith sent a nearby student inside to tell everyone there was no threat.
Instead of offering comfort, however, when the doors to the building opened, some students panicked and barricaded themselves in classrooms. One female student was so distraught she had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance.
Dozens of officers responded to the emergency call, and after they'd secured the area, they arrested Smith, who spent two nights at the Charlottesville Albemarle Regional Jail. The other three students were arrested at their residences on Thursday evening, April 26. "I never thought I'd be led out of my dorm in handcuffs," said Choe soon after she was released from custody.
While the criminal aspect of the case is resolved, the students still face disciplinary charges through UVA's Judicial Committee. Hsieh, who graduated in May and will attend medical school in the fall, already had his hearing, which Choe says had a "positve result." The other three must wait until the fall for their own hearings. It makes the summer stressful, she says. "We're not sure how it's going to turn out for each one of us."