Family says ‘fight far from over’ for teenager accused of choking teacher

Posted at 7:20 PM, May 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-18 22:54:58-04

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — When Earnest Gathing Jr. and Iris Morgan walked into the courtroom Friday morning, they were hoping to take their teenage son home for the first time in months, they said. Twenty minutes later, their son cried and was ushered out of the side door by the court officers.

“He’s ready to come home,” Earnest said during an interview after court. “He had three  months left on probation when this happened. He hasn't been in trouble in a longtime.”

Their 15-year-old son, who will not be identified due to his age, has been charged with assault and battery after he allegedly choked a teacher at Kalamazoo Central High School on February 6. He’s been in juvenile detention since the incident. Friday afternoon was his competency hearing at the Justice Complex on Gull Road.

“It was real stressful,” said Morgan about the hearing. “He was real happy that everybody was here for him though. And I really do miss him and want him to come home.”

Other relatives attended the hearing. The NAACP and Michigan United were there as well. When proceedings began, assistant prosecuting attorney Ramie Almeda asked for the hearing to be adjourned because they received the 20-page competency report the day before at 3 p.m. and he questioned the author's integrity. The defense attorney rebutted.

“Even if the report is considered hearsay, it is still legally admissible and the court should read it,” said attorney Scott Ryder. “All do respect to the prosecutor, the reason they are not stipulating is because the outcome of the report is not favorable to their position.”

Ryder went on to ask Judge Julie Phillips if the teenager can be released to go home to his parents. Almeda argued that he should remain detained because he was already on probation when the incident occurred and has had a few conflicts with others while in detention. He cited a recent report, written on April 10, 2018, by a caseworker who stated that the teenager will only learn lessons with maturity.

“[The juvenile] certainly understands right from wrong that allows him to make better choices,” Almeda read aloud to the court. “But again this is from a probation officer that has been dealing with this young man for a longtime. So again we’re asking the court to keep the young man next door.”

After hearing the arguments, the judge adjourned the hearing to June. She denied the defense’s request to release him to his parents because of his actions while at the detention center.

“I hope that you don’t have any more assaultive behavior,” said Judge Phillips to the teenager. “I’m disappointed to hear that since February.”

The teenager cried when the hearing was over. His mother told him “It’s not over” as well as the local NAACP representative. The family said they want the courts to consider their son's learning disability, which they believe is what led to the incident at the school. Nonetheless, they’re going to continue to fight for his release.

“The fight, like I said, it's not just for my son,” Gathing said. “It’s for the whole community who’s going though this. The fight is far for over.”