Charges for man accused of pulling school fire alarm to be reduced

Charges for man accused of pulling school fire alarm to be reduced

The felony charges against a Sterling man who allegedly entered two central Kenai Peninsula schools and pulled fire alarms will be downgraded to misdemeanors.

Robert Luton, 31, was arrested Oct. 14 and charged with two counts of terroristic threatening in the second degree and two counts of criminal mischief in the fourth degree after he allegedly entered two schools and pulled the fire alarms, triggering evacuations. After the students at the second school, Sterling Elementary School, were cleared to reenter the building, Luton entered the building with them, according to court documents.

The school’s principal reviewed video footage to find out who had pulled the alarm and identified Luton, according to court documents.

District Attorney Scot Leaders said during Luton’s preliminary hearing Friday that the state agreed to downgrade the charge from terroristic threatening in the second degree to attempted terroristic threatening after Luton’s attorney, public defender Joy Hobart, said Luton hadn’t technically made a false report because he hadn’t actually verbally reported a fire.

“You have to say something,” she said. “That’s what a report is.”

Leaders and Fallon at first disagreed, saying pulling the fire alarm was tantamount to giving a report of a fire. Hobart said there was a statute specifically dealing with pulling fire alarms — criminal mischief in the fourth degree, which Luton is also charged with — and that it was unusual to charge this particular crime as a class C felony.

Leaders said the state would amend the felony charges in both cases to attempted terroristic threatening in the second degree, downgrading them to misdemeanors. However, he argued for the bail to remain set where it is rather than be adjusted down based on the charges being reduced to misdemeanors. Luton’s conduct hasn’t changed, and given that he has a criminal history dating back to 2002 with 22 prior convictions, three of which are felonies, he presents a danger to the community, Leaders said.

“This conduct here … is dangerous behavior. It can cause problems, potential for injury,” he said. “…I know the schools are very upset and frustrated by Mr. Luton’s conduct.”

Hobart said Luton has a history of mental health issues that contributed to the behavior. Fallon said he understood that but thought the existing bail was appropriate. If Luton could obtain the medications he needed, it could “reassure the court” and a bail review could be appropriate, Fallon said.

“I sympathize, but it doesn’t decrease the danger to the community,” he said.

Luton currently has a pre-trial conference set for Nov. 16 and a trial week set for Dec. 18.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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