ERWIN — Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said the Thursday morning arrest of an Erwin man on the grounds of Unicoi County High School reaffirmed the need for student resource officers to be stationed at each of the county’s schools.
Jose R. Vasquez, 18, 105 Gentry St., was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing.
According to an affidavit of complaint written by Deputy Daniel Honeycutt, the high school’s SRO, around 10 a.m. Thursday, Honeycutt received a call from the Unicoi County Career and Technical Education department in regard to a suspicious male in the student parking lot.
Honeycutt wrote that he approached the man, identified as Vasquez, who told the officer he had relocated to the county from New York and was late for cosmetology classes.
“Vasquez did not appear to be a student, and his actions were suspicious,” Honeycutt from in his report.
Honeycutt stated in his report that he ran Vasquez’s information through the National Crime Information Center database and found that he was not a UCHS student. Vasquez told Honeycutt that he was on school grounds to meet a boy who was a student there, according to the report.
The boy had been texting Vasquez and telling him to come to his class, Honeycutt wrote. The phones belonging to both Vasquez and the juvenile were taken as evidence. Vasquez was charged with criminal trespassing and transported to the Unicoi County Jail, and the student was “dealt with by school officials for inviting someone onto school property,” Honeycutt wrote. Honeycutt was assisted at the scene by Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson.
According to Honeycutt’s report, it was later discovered Vasquez had been told by the boy that he had to sit on the floor to eat during lunch as seats in the cafeteria area had been filled, and Vasquez was upset about this and intended to speak to UCHS Principal Chris Bogart regarding the matter. Vasquez had already left an anonymous voicemail for Bogart. The report states the student was never made to sit on the floor.
Vasquez appeared in Unicoi County Sessions Court on Friday morning, where he pleaded guilty to the criminal trespassing charge. He was ordered to serve 30 months of unsupervised probation and have no further contact with UCHS.
Hensley said he commends Honeycutt’s efforts, and the incident shows the importance of having an onsite SRO at the schools.
“He recognized the person was not a student, and he picked there was some suspicious activity and that’s great,” Hensley said. “All the officers that we have in the schools are trained, they go through SRO training. When something like this happens, they reflect back on that training. It was good that he was able to pick this person out and see the characteristics weren’t matching up to what he was telling the officer.”
The sheriff also said the safety of the county’s educators and students is something local law enforcement takes very seriously.
“We want to have the safest environment possible for the students to learn and the teachers to teach,” Hensley said. “There’s nothing that should be in the back of their minds that there’s a possibility that they are not protected.”