February 16, 2013

Six threatening charges dropped in Reiche case

Bail for the Portland man charged in the playground incident is also reduced from $250,000 to $250.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — A Portland man who is charged with threatening children at the Reiche Community School was released from the Cumberland County Jail on Friday night, then arrested again, after a judge lowered his bail from $250,000 to $250.

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click image to enlarge

Derek Weeks, right, with attorney Luke Rioux, pleads not guilty to two counts at his initial court appearance Friday. His bail was dropped from $250,000 to $250.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

Derek Weeks, 32, was first arrested at his home on High Street on Wednesday, charged with seven counts of criminal threatening and one count of interfering with constitutional and civil rights. Both crimes are misdemeanors.

His arrest followed an incident at the Reiche school while Weeks was picking up his daughter after school Wednesday.

They were playing on the playground when Weeks allegedly threatened some children, gestured with his hand in the shape of a gun and said they should not be on the playground because they are black.

The charges were based on children’s accounts, authorities said. By the time Weeks appeared in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court on Friday, six of the seven criminal-threatening charges had been dropped.

District Attorney Stephanie Anderson said later that her office decided to consolidate the charges because prosecuting all seven would have been more difficult and more of a burden on the victims, who range in age from 8 to 12.

Prosecutors would have had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Weeks threatened each child, she said. Weeks, appearing before Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz in orange inmate’s clothing, pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors agreed to his lower bail.

Weeks was released from jail on $250 bail around 6 p.m. Friday.

He was arrested hours later on a charge of violating the conditions of his release by not being at his mother’s house when police went to check on him. Police said Weeks was at his girlfriend’s house. He was released again around 11 p.m., after posting $60 cash bail.

In an interview with WGME-TV on Thursday, Weeks said that he made the gesture of a gun as part of his description of what police officers carry. He said he believes he was misunderstood by the children because of a language barrier. Anderson said she has no problems with the credibility of the children.

“I can tell they all seem to be ... pretty consistent in terms of what they’re saying,” she said. “The kids were all very proficient in English.”

Anderson said the consolidation of the charges does not indicate that the allegations are any less serious. “It’s a change in the form, not the substance,” she said. The criminal-threatening charge says Weeks intentionally made several Reiche schoolchildren fear imminent bodily injury.

The second charge says he intentionally interfered with the rights of another person. Anderson said she was not surprised that the bail was set so high after Weeks was arrested. “You’re mixing the threat of violence and possible involvement of guns and children on a playground, and racial bias. That’s pretty incendiary stuff,” she said.

When bail was set initially, it was not clear whether Weeks had a history of violence or whether he had access to guns, she said. Weeks has no criminal record, according to the State Bureau of Identification.

Luke Rioux, the attorney who represented Weeks at Friday’s court appearance, said the initial bail of $250,000 seemed excessive for misdemeanor charges.

Family members and friends of Weeks who gathered at the courthouse Friday said Weeks is not racist and often plays with children of different backgrounds. They said he is a devoted father. “He wouldn’t threaten anyone in a million years,” said a longtime friend, Erica Staples.

Another friend, Theron Fidian, said he thought the charges might have been an overreaction caused by the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., in December. He said schools have been doing safety drills that may have heightened the students’ sensitivity.

Emily Sweeney, Weeks’s longtime partner, said she was at the playground with him and their daughter, then left for a few minutes to get food for lunch.

When she returned, there was no disturbance and the children were still playing together, she said.

They shared some cheese she had bought. “He might have said, ‘Settle down,’” she said, but he would not have threatened children.

Sweeney said it’s unfortunate that, under the conditions of his bail, Weeks cannot visit his daughter’s school. Weeks is due in court next April 10.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com

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