Time stands still for Hempfield teen in lockup
A Hempfield Area High School sophomore spent 12 days in juvenile detention after authorities in Westmoreland County mistakenly charged him with making a March 11 bomb threat, in part because the district had not changed its clocks to reflect daylight-saving time.
Cody Webb, 15, of Hempfield, was arrested March 12 and charged with a felony count of threatening to use weapons of mass destruction and misdemeanor counts of making false alarms to public entities, reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct and making terrorist threats.
Webb, an honors student involved in student council, tennis and the Japanese Club, was immediately taken to the county’s juvenile detention center.
“Cody never even had a (school) detention,” said his mother, Linda Webb. “It was a nightmare.”
The next day, Webb had a detention hearing and was held for court. After 10 more days in detention, Webb was back in court for his case to be heard. He was released to his parents’ custody that day after Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge John Driscoll continued the hearing when the state police failed to appear.
Trooper Jeanne Martin, spokeswoman for state police at Greensburg, said the time change was an issue. Driscoll dismissed the charges March 27.
The teen said he did call the school’s delay hot line early Sunday, March 11. But that was an hour before the bomb threat was phoned in, said the family’s attorney, Tim Andrews. After Webb’s parents obtained his cell phone records, Andrews found the call times did not match.
“I found out the district had not changed their clocks to reflect daylight-saving time,” Andrews said. “They were changed Monday morning.”
High school Principal Kathy Charlton confirmed that some of the district’s clocks were wrong because of the changeover to daylight-saving time, which was three weeks earlier this year.
“All the time stamps were screwed up. Some did (change over), some didn’t,” Charlton said. “Everyone’s system had to be set manually. There were a lot of clocks involved.”
Andrews said state police and school officials botched the investigation. The school received 35 calls early on the morning of March 11, and few were actively investigated, he said.
“All it would have taken was 10 more minutes to look at the information. Everybody jumped the gun and caused this kid and his family to go through this,” Andrews said.
Webb said he was chatting with his girlfriend on his cell phone at about 2 a.m. March 11 — just about the time daylight-saving time pushed the clocks ahead one hour.
He hung up with his girlfriend, then placed a call to the school.
“I was bored, so I wondered what the recording said when you called in Hempfield’s school delay hot line. I called in and it said to push ’72,’ which I did, and it said there were no delays. Then it disconnected me,” he said. Webb’s cell phone number showed up on the school’s call recorder.
According to the police report, a male juvenile called the high school at 3:10 a.m. and said he would bomb the school Monday. The bomb threat came from a blocked phone number, Andrews said.
The district placed the blame by matching Webb’s call, recorded on his phone at 3:12 a.m. daylight-saving time, to the threat recorded by the school as having been received at 3:17 a.m. Eastern Standard Time — but that was 4:17 daylight-saving time, or an hour after Webb’s call, Andrews said.
“The district attorney subpoenaed the cell phone records, and it didn’t take more than a minute to see the times didn’t match,” Andrews said.
Hempfield solicitor Dennis Slyman said law enforcement did not question administrators about the school’s clocks.
“The authorities never, never asked us anything about the clocks and daylight-saving time,” Slyman said. “Whatever they did was with their own investigation and outside the auspices of the school district.”
Webb said he learned about the bomb threat at school that Monday and was called into the guidance office.
“Mrs. Charlton asked me if I had a cell phone. I said, ‘Yeah,’ and she said, ‘What’s the number?’ I told her, and she started saying, ‘We got him. We got him.’ I was completely oblivious to what they were talking about,” he said.
In the principal’s office, administrators demanded that Webb admit to calling in the bomb threat, he said.
“I wasn’t going to admit to something I didn’t do,” he said. “Me and God know I didn’t do it.”
Webb’s parents, Linda and Budd Webb, arrived at the school and listened to the recorded bomb threat. Linda Webb told administrators it wasn’t her son.
“They kept saying that it was his voice. They didn’t even know him,” she said.
After a state trooper arrived, Charlton told the teen he was being arrested, and the trooper read Webb his Miranda rights.
“I was in shock,” Webb said.
After the judge ordered a continuance, Andrews got Webb released to the custody of his parents.
Budd Webb wept as he described learning that his son would be cleared.
“I got a callfrom our attorney that said he had paperwork signed by Judge Driscoll dropping the felony and misdemeanor charges against my son,” he said.
County juvenile detention officials wanted to keep Webb in custody, Andrews said. “They wanted him to have a mental health evaluation because he wouldn’t admit to making the call.”
County officials said Tuesday that Webb was in custody no longer than the law requires.
“Legally, we were OK. We didn’t step on this kid’s rights,” said Mike Sturnick, supervisor for the juvenile probation office.
Webb’s mother arranged home-schooling for him until he decides where to continue his education. He doesn’t want to return to Hempfield.
Martin said the state police investigation into the bomb threat remains open.