CHARLOTTE — A Charlotte charter school took extra precautions for its graduation Thursday night after police charged an 18-year-old student with one count of threatening mass violence at an educational property, according to arrest records.
Records show Charlotte-Mecklenburg police arrested Bradford Preparatory High School student Jacob Lawlor on Wednesday. According to an arrest warrant, Lawlor texted another student, threatening to protest the graduation and shoot up the ceremony.
The head of the charter school told parents that a threat was directed at the graduation ceremony Thursday night at the Atrium Health Ballpark. The school head also credited the “See Something, Say Something” app for the tip, which led police to investigate and arrest Lawlor.
Lawlor was booked at 5 a.m. Wednesday and was initially released a little less than six hours later under a $2,500 bond, according to an arrest record.
Then Thursday afternoon, an emergency hearing was called and a judge ordered Lawlor to be taken back into custody until noon Friday -- after the graduation ceremony.
Daniel Redford, with the Fraternal Order of Police for Mecklenburg County, said Lawlor should have never been released.
“It’s a failure at the highest level within our judicial office here in Mecklenburg county,” he said.
The district attorney’s office also agrees. Under state law, if someone is charged with threatening mass violence, the DA’s office said it’s supposed to get the opportunity to argue for conditions of release in front of a judge, not a magistrate.
“God forbid if he would have went to that graduation tonight and did exactly what he said. How would this magistrate feel knowing he let him out by breaking the law,” Redford said.
The law and setting bond
According to North Carolina law, the magistrate didn’t have the authority to set a bond in this case, because Lawlor was accused of threatening mass violence.
“It’s a clear indication to us that the judicial officials here in Mecklenburg County, they’re making up their own rules,” Redford said.
Redford said law enforcement has been encountering issues with Mecklenburg County magistrates who set improper bonds for offenders time and time again.
“There are a number of limited circumstances in our statutes that do not permit magistrates to set release conditions for criminal charges, ensuring that bond should not be set without giving my office an opportunity to be heard,” the district attorney’s office said, in part, in a statement.
The DA’s Office urged that all judicial officials should follow the law.
“They can’t even follow the law,” Redford said. “The District Attorney’s Office should not be reminding our judges to do that. It’s clearly written.”
Chief District Court Judge Elizabeth Trocsch said magistrates use a checklist when making pre-trial decisions to improve their decision-making.
The list asks judges to consider a variety of circumstances that would result in a defendant not getting a bond, such as gang activity, domestic violence charges or access to a firearm.
It does not ask judges to consider threats of mass violence, which, under the state statue, requires a defendant be held in jail until they can go before a district court judge.
That didn’t happen in this case.
When Lawlor was back in court Thursday afternoon, his attorney argued he was joking and was upset about not getting to walk in graduation because he has to complete a math course this summer. Lawlor’s attorney said no guns were found in his home and his family doesn’t own any firearms.
Police also didn’t find any indications that he had a plan.
“This isn’t something we can forget about, laugh about and just say, ‘I hope it doesn’t happen,’ because that’s when they do happen,” Redford said.
Lawlor’s attorney said he helped care for his mother who is disabled and has plans to join the coast guard.
Lawlor was one credit short of graduating, which was why sent a text message about the threat.
His lawyer, Aaron Lee, said the text was a joke and taken out of context.
“He does not pose a threat to the school, to society,” Lee said. “He doesn’t want to hurt anyone or anything.”
Families at the graduation said that seeing Kannapolis police at the graduation helped them feel at ease and allowed them to fully enjoy the commencement.
Joan Chrispin’s daughter, Cece, was graduating Thursday.
“My daughter was born preemie. She was born a pound, 8 ounces, and she was given a 50-50 chance of surviving and 50-50 chance of having brain damage,” Chrispin said. “Her walking down this aisle is, like, she just fought hard and beat all the odds.”
In a statement to Channel 9, a spokesperson for Bradford Prep said the following:
“We are aware of the arrest and have worked with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, which has been very helpful. At this time, any further questions should be directed to CMPD.”
Full statement from Chief District Court Judge Elizabeth Trosch on June 6:
“The District Attorney has made me aware of specific circumstances in which magistrates had acted to set conditions of release without authority. Statutes that remove the authority from Magistrates to set conditions of release have not been consistently followed. In March of 2022, all Mecklenburg County Criminal Magistrates were directed by the Chief Judge to complete five (5) hours of intensive training on the law of pretrial release in North Carolina. The Magistrates were also trained on how to use our local decision-making tool (Findings of Fact Form). Magistrates were required to use this tool effective April 1st. Evaluation of the practice changes and their effectiveness is ongoing.”
District Attorney Spencer Merriweather released the following statement to Channel 9 in reference to Lawlor’s bond:
“There are a number of limited circumstances in our statutes that do not permit magistrates to set release conditions for criminal charges, ensuring that bond should not be set without giving my office an opportunity to be heard. On the dozens of occasions this year where these laws have not been complied with, we have repeatedly brought this to the attention of supervising judicial officials and asked, with mixed success, for matters to be revisited in open court. Court officials have proposed some best practices to try to eliminate these occurrences, and we hope they are successful. In the meantime, we continue to urge all judicial officials to follow the law.”
Statement from Chief District Court Judge Elizabeth Trosch on June 2:
“We have been working with the MacArthur Foundation and Justice System Partners to implement a decision-making checklist to improve the effectiveness of Magistrate pretrial release decision-making. We believe that this pretrial release decision-making tool among other practice changes, will aid in ensuring more consistent application of the law and improve the process for all involved.”
No other details have been released at this point.
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