PORT ANGELES — A 19-year-old former Forks High School student pleaded not guilty to felony harassment of a 15-year-old girl in a classroom after his lawyer tried getting the charge, based on a March 7 incident, thrown out.
Harry Gasnick of Clallam Public Defender said Friday in Clallam County Superior Court that the alleged comments made by his client, Kelvin Richard Banks of Forks, about killing the teen expressed a wish, not an intention, to hurt her, thus failing to meet the definition of felony harassment.
Judge Erik Rohrer rejected Gasnick’s argument and schedule April 6 as Banks’ next hearing date.
Rohrer also kept Banks’ bail at $100,000, issued a no-contact order against him until March 16, 2023, and set a trial date of May 7.
Quillayute Valley Schools Superintendent Diana Reaume said Friday in an interview that the school district is reviewing its classroom procedures in light of the incident.
She said district officials are delving into what occurred between Banks and the girl during the school year and has talked with “several parents” regarding issues surrounding the case.
Staff members also are “looking into our safety routines and safety plan in the event the alleged perpetrator is released on bail,” Reaume said.
Banks was expelled from Forks High School on March 7, after he allegedly made threatening comments about killing the girl during a science lab when other students were present.
Reaume said the class included students from different grade levels such as the girl, a freshman, and Banks, a senior, to meet instructional needs in the small school district.
Gasnick told Rohrer the comments Banks allegedly made, which were contained in the probable cause statement on which the charge was based and included “I wanna hurt her” and “I want to kill her,” did not mean Banks intended to harm the girl.
“That’s an expression of desire, not an expression of intent to take action on those desires,” said Gasnick, of Clallam Public Defender.
“The extent of those allegations are essentially wishful thinking.
“I want to be home watching the NCAA ‘March Madness,’ and rather than take a vacation day, I’ve come here.
“Nor have I taken any action to take the day off,” he added.
“I want all the gold in Fort Knox.
“I defy anyone to accuse me of having taken action to steal the gold from Fort Knox.”
The girl told Forks police that Banks had been making “overly sexual” comments to her since the beginning of the school year, according to the probable cause statement.
She confronted him in November and again, March 7, when the teacher “refused to let her move seats,” and she walked out of class, according to the statement.
Reaume said Friday the girl immediately reported the incident to the school discipline office.
The way Gasnick read the affidavit, the school district has decided her claims were unfounded “because they have chosen not to take any action,” he said.
County Deputy Criminal Prosecuting Attorney Sarah Woolman said Banks’ comments placed the girl “in reasonable fear” for her safety.
A jury should decide if what occurred that day, as described in the affidavit, constituted felony harassment.
Rohrer decided the probable cause statement is valid.
“Given the context of the situation, this is sufficient,” he said.
Gasnick also pressed Rohrer to release Banks, who is in the Clallam County jail on $100,000 bail, on his own recognizance.
Banks does not have a criminal history, his father “is a member of law enforcement,” Banks was expelled from school as a result of the charge, has no likelihood of contact with the girl, and there are no other allegations against him.
Woolman said there were safety concerns for the girl that warranted the bail.
When the teen asked Banks to stop making sexual comments toward her in November, he told her “it would be hell and high water for everyone if she brought it up again,” Woolman said.
On March 7, when the girl confronted him in class with other students present, he said, “I wanna hurt her. I want to kill her,” according to the affidavit.
Woolman said when Forks Police Officer Julie Goode interviewed him that same day, Banks told her he “had anger issues.”
He had a knife in his possession when he was arrested, Woolman said.
An AR-15, a rifle, a shotgun, high-capacity magazines, tactical vests and homemade firearm suppressors were found in his bedroom during the subsequent execution of a search warrant.
A handwritten note that Woolman compared to “creative writing” also was found in Banks’ bedroom in which Banks described killing a man, dismembering him and blowing up his house, she said.
Gasnick countered that Banks lawfully owned the weapons.
“I guess we can all discuss the Second Amendment as we wish,” he said. “We all have our own views.”
Rohrer ruled that the $100,000 bail would stand.
“When I look at the totality of this, I think the bail is appropriate,” Rohrer said.
“One thing I cannot infer is that the Quillayute Valley School District did not take action in this specific case,” he added.
Rohrer said he could not draw any conclusions in that regard.
“I don’t know what they were thinking, I don’t know what they investigated, but I’m not going to conclude they made some sort of determination,” Rohrer said.
Reaume said Friday that district officials are reviewing policies for students’ classroom seat assignments, which are decided by teachers.
Some instructors have “strict guidelines” that students must adhere to, Reaume said.
“We can always improve our practices,” she added.
Reaume said there was one report late last year of an electronic communication between Banks and the girl that the school district investigated.
It “was dealt with on or around Dec. 7,” Reaume said, not commenting on whether Banks was disciplined.
“I am looking into it further on the timeline and when it happened, to find out if there was other information we weren’t aware of,” she said.
“We did address the situation that was brought to our attention,” Reaume said, adding she did not know if the electronic communication was sexual in nature.
“Whether there was more information, that’s what I’m looking into,” she added.
The review of the incident could affect school operations, Reaume said.
“If there are areas we can improve on, then we will address those areas.
“The message we want to get out to parents is, we want to make sure kids are safe.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].