Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas announced on Monday new state legislation that would criminalize threats of mass violence that current laws do not address.
“School threats have skyrocketed since the Parkland tragedy, causing lockdowns, panic, and have diverted law enforcement resources from their lifesaving work,” Singas said. “We need stronger laws that criminalize phony threats and protect our communities from the horrific violence that has stolen so many lives.”
This is good news for those living in Oyster Bay and East Norwich. The community was shaken in 2015 when it learned that Brian Hulsen, 40, a custodian at the James H. Vernon School, had made a terroristic threat the Friday before Labor Day to a teacher about one of her colleagues, police said. Hulsen allegedly made a reference to Columbine High School in Colorado, the scene of a mass murder on April 20, 1999, and made a gesture with his finger mimicking the shooting of a gun.
The teacher did not report the incident to Principal Nancy Gaiman until the Tuesday after the holiday, and Gaiman did not immediately act on it. What irked parents further was that Hulsen continued to work his shift that day.
The following morning, Gaiman reported the incident to Superintendent Dr. Laura Seinfeld, who called Hulsen and asked him to come to the administration building, where police were waiting.
While Hulsen underwent testing at Nassau University Medical Center, police searched his Bethpage home, and found an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, an FN Herstal PS-90 semi-automatic rifle and a Mossberg 500A shotgun, which they seized.
Hulsen was released from the hospital and formally arrested on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. At his court date on Sept. 11, he made his $5,000 bail and was released.
“There was a grace period of a couple of days where he could have done something — four days, in fact,” Paul Macri, a parent, said at a special meeting scheduled by the Oyster Bay Board of Education at the high school that Sept. 15.
Hundreds of people attended, and most were angry. Hulsen was described as a “hothead.” One mother asked that the teacher he threatened be offered paid leave to protect her and the children in her class.
Gaiman retired that year. The district immediately upgraded its security system, and has continued to do so to this day.
The new bill would remedy a deficiency that Singas said was highlighted by the Hulsen court decision, which found that his alleged statements to the faculty member that she “better be absent the day they fire me because I’m going to come in here and Columbine this [expletive]” did not rise to the level of a Making a Terroristic Threat charge.
The charges against Hulsenwere dismissed. He later requested the return of the guns seized by police.
The proposed legislation would create two new crimes: making a threat of mass harm (a Class A misdemeanor) and aggravated threat of mass harm (a Class E felony), which would close what Singas described as a loophole in the law and, she said, “hold those who make threats accountable for their words.”
Singas’s office drafted the legislation, which has been introduced in the State Senate by Sen. Todd Kaminsky, and will be introduced in the Assembly by Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino.
“Law enforcement needs every available tool to protect our schools and communities from mass shootings and other violence,” Kaminsky said. “The fact that someone in our state could say that he is going to ‘Columbine’ a school, and yet police are nearly powerless to take action, shows that our laws needs strengthening.”
The bill would allow police to arrest those who make threats of mass harm, and to seize weapons from them.
“As a mother and a former teacher, a school shooting is my worst nightmare,” Pellegrino said. “The number of threats against our schools has dramatically increased, and we’re here to say enough is enough. Threats against the lives of students and faculty cause fear and panic throughout the community.” The bill would ensure that anyone who threatens schools is held accountable, she added.
Those convicted of making a threat of mass harm would face up to a year in jail. Defendants convicted of aggravated threat of mass harm, an elevated charge for those who prepare to commit the threatened harm by making a plan, compiling a target list or possessing any weapon or device, would face up to four years in prison.
If passed by both houses of the State Legislature and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the law would take effect immediately.