Judge sentences teen for taking gun to school

NIcholas Dawson

WOODSTOCK – A judge sentenced a Shenandoah County teenager convicted of carrying a loaded firearm into school and possessing child pornography to complete a youth-offender program.

Nicholas A. Dawson, 18, of Woodstock, appeared in Shenandoah County Circuit Court for a sentencing hearing Friday. Glen Koontz represented Dawson. Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Louis Campola prosecuted the case.

As punishment for possessing a firearm at school, Judge Dennis L. Hupp sentenced Dawson to participate and successfully complete a youth offender program that could last up to four years. Hupp then sentenced Dawson to five years in prison, all time suspended, for each of the remaining two convictions of possessing a firearm at school. The judge also sentenced Dawson to 12 months in jail, all time suspended, for each count of possession of child pornography as well as three counts of possession of a firearm as a juvenile. Dawson also must serve five years of supervised probation upon completion of the program. The judge said state law does not require that Dawson register as a sex offender.

Koontz argued that his client, who has been incarcerated since October 2016, would benefit from participating and completing a youth offender program rather than serve time in prison. Koontz tried to convince Hupp to withhold entry of an order with the finding of guilt until his client completes the program. Hupp later advised both attorneys that the program does not admit participants who have pending cases.

Campola argued that taking a loaded firearm to school three times endangered the lives of students and other people at Central. Campola also argued that child pornography exploits children.

Prosecutors charged Dawson as an adult after he brought his father’s 9mm Glock handgun to Central High School on Oct. 12-14, 2016. Dawson was 16 years old at the time the incidents occurred. Dawson pleaded guilty Sept. 25 to three counts each of bringing a gun to school and possession of a firearm while a juvenile.

Authorities say a student alerted the school’s resource officer on Oct. 14, 2016, that he saw Dawson with the firearm. The officer patted Dawson down and found the firearm in the waistband of his jogging pants with the drawstring tied around the trigger guard. The incident prompted officials to put the school on lock down. Dawson told police he brought the gun to school because he heard a group of students planned to attack him.

At the Sept. 25 trial on related charges, Hupp dismissed Dawson’s charge of grand larceny of a firearm after the prosecution failed to prove the defendant took the gun without permission. Hupp also found Dawson not guilty on each of three charges of participating in a criminal street gang during the commission of a crime.

A search of Dawson’s phone at the time of his arrest revealed videos depicting child pornography as well as photographs showing various symbols and signs a prosecution witness identified as gang insignia. A photograph in the phone also showed Dawson wearing a blue bandanna over his face while holding a gun in his hand.

Koontz told the judge that Dawson has done well while incarcerated in the Northwestern Regional Juvenile Detention Center and the facility’s superintendent could attest to this. However, Campola reiterated during the sentencing that Dawson, while in the jail awaiting trial, wrote a letter to a witness threatening harm if the person testified.