Middle school student pleads guilty in harassment case

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— A student from Steamboat Springs Middle School pleaded guilty to harassment Tuesday in connection with a report of inappropriate conduct at the school last year.

Another student is expected to enter a plea today.

The juvenile who pleaded Tuesday was one of five boys whose cases were heard in court Tuesday. At least six boys are facing charges related to the incident; arraignments for four of them have been scheduled for March.

Multiple charges have been filed against the group of middle school students for allegedly behaving inappropriately toward a girl last November.

The 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office is handling the case, but the Routt County Sheriff's Office investigated the incident because the middle school lies within the county's jurisdiction.

The family of the victim would like to see the matter resolved as quickly as possible, Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James told Routt County Judge James Garrecht.

The accused boys' parents appeared in court Tuesday.

"You're also caught up in this," Garrecht reminded one mother and father.

A restraining order has been in place against the boys. The order was modified Tuesday to allow contact with the victim so long as the victim was not harassed, molested, intimidated or retaliated against.

Garrecht said the "degree of culpability" of the students involved in the incident would pan out over time.

"We'll just have to see how this all plays out," he said.

Juveniles charged with criminal offenses have the same constitutional rights as adults charged with criminal offenses. Juvenile cases closely resemble adult criminal prosecutions during preliminary proceedings and the course of the trial. The distinction between juvenile delinquency cases and adult criminal cases lies in the sentencing or dispositional alternatives available to the juvenile court.

Which judge will ultimately handle the case is still in question.

Although Garrecht is the county judge, he is handling the children's cases in district court. Chief District Judge Michael O'Hara will likely recuse himself from the matter because he is acquainted with some of the families involved in the incident, Garrecht said.

Newly appointed District Judge Paul McLimans will not be able to handle the case either, so the matter may remain with Garrecht for a while longer or go to another judge outside the 14th Judicial District, Garrecht said.

"I don't know who ultimately is going to be dealing with this case," he said.

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