An 18-year-old Sun Prairie student who brought a loaded semi-automatic handgun to school received three years probation after several of his teachers asked the judge not to send him to prison.
Kiante K. Jackson pled guilty to bringing a gun to Sun Prairie High School (SPHS) on June 4, 2018. One teen reported that Jackson pointed the gun at him.
During the June 20, 2019 Dane County Circuit Court sentencing hearing, two of Jackson’s former SPHS teachers asked for leniency, telling Judge Ellen K. Berz that the teen was dealing with his brother’s homicide and struggled with learning disabilities.
Former SPHS special education teacher Jennifer O’Brien worked with Jackson for two years and told the judge that Jackson was under stress when the gun incident happened.
Jackson’s 24-year-old brother, Rayshawn Jackson, was shot execution-style in the head on May 16 in Madison by another man after an argument over a woman, police reported. Jackson’s older brother was a father figure to him and O’Brien said that incident caused stress that impaired Jackson’s decision-making ability.
O’Brien said Jackson made a wrong decision by bringing a gun to school, but he doesn’t belong in jail.
“K.J. has a bright future and I would hate to see this hanging over his head for the rest of his life. He made a mistake,” O’Brien told Berz during the sentencing hearing.
As part of a plea agreement last April, Jackson pled guilty to possession of a firearm on school grounds, carrying a concealed weapon and obstructing an officer.
The court dismissed two felony charges—pointing a firearm at another person and felony intimidation of a victim. Two other charges — possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 and disorderly conduct-use of a dangerous weapon—were dismissed but read into the record for Berz to consider in sentencing.
According to the criminal complaint, Jackson, then a 17-year-old, was confronted by Sun Prairie School Liaison officer Jack Wilkinson around 11 a.m. after a staff member reported that Jackson might have a gun.
Wilkinson found Jackson in the hallway outside the school’s performing arts center. Jackson ran from Wilkinson when he attempted to try to get a black computer bag off of Jackson’s shoulder. Jackson ran out of the school and into a neighborhood along Hawthorn Drive but was eventually arrested by SPPD officers who followed him and found 31 individual 9 mm rounds of ammunition in the bag he was carrying. Police later recovered the weapon, a Zastava M88 9-mm pistol, from a retention pond near Hawthorn Drive and Sandstone Trail.
During the investigation, two 16-year-old male SPHS students told police that they were hanging out at the school’s tennis courts in the morning on June 4 when Jackson came over and joined them.
One of the teens said that Jackson pulled a black semiautomatic handgun from his pants pocket and pointed it at him. Jackson then said that he was “only kidding” and showed him the gun. The other teen told police that Jackson said he was going to sell the gun for $400, according to the criminal complaint.
The two teens reported they went back into the school and Jackson went with them and brought the handgun into the school.
During the June 20 sentencing, Jackson told Berz that he never pointed the gun at the teen.
Another SPHS teacher, Deidre Jarecki, spoke at the June 20 sentencing hearing, also asked for the judge for leniency in Jackson’s sentencing.
Jarecki and another SPHS teacher wrote letters to Berz, telling her that Jackson “slipped through the cracks” at the Sun Prairie Area School District because staff could not give him individual support and reach out to his family when they saw he did not have the ability to make better decisions.
Five teachers sent letters to Berz supporting Jackson.
Jarecki said that bringing a gun to school was out of character for Jackson.
“He was in trauma and had not processed his emotions, Jarecki wrote in a letter to the judge. “He didn’t feel safe. An opportunity presented itself to protect himself, and he took it. He meant no harm to our school or the students in it.”
Jackson had no prior criminal record before the May gun incident, but he reportedly told teachers during his sophomore year that his main goal was staying out of prison.
The teachers wrote that in his junior year, Jackson was starting to mature, change his behaviors and pay attention to his studies.
During the sentencing hearing, Berz said she looked at three factors—the serious of the crimes, the defendant’s character, and protecting the community—when considering sentencing.
Berz told Jackson that bringing the gun into a school threatened the lives of others—she said it could have gone off by accident or have been taken by another person.
“If I asked the mom and dads of Sun Prairie, who have their children going to your school, what should happen to you, I have no doubt that the majority would say put you in prison for as long as you can be put in prison,” the judge told Jackson.
Judge Berz said that a three-year prison term was the usual sentences for a person found guilty of bringing a gun to school but she weighed in other factors. Jackson had no prior criminal record, and while on bail monitoring he had no violations, showing exemplary behavior, Judge Berz said.
Judge Berz also recognized and congratulated Jackson for earning his high school diploma while out on bail monitoring. Berz started clapping to honor Jackson’s achievement, with others in the court joining in.
When Berz asked about his future plans, Jackson said he wanted to go into construction or be a plumber. He said he worked in the home health care field now but was taking classes to prepare him for a career.
Jackson, who spent three days in jail before he was let out on bail monitoring, told the judge said he owned up and took responsibility for bringing the gun to school but did not want to jail or prison.
“I like freedom, being in there (jail), I felt like I was caged up and I never want to go back there again,” Jackson said.
Assistant District Attorney Tim Helmberger told the judge that prison wasn’t appropriate in this case but recommended 30 days in jail.
‘If you bring a gun to school. I think you need to sit in jail for a bit,” Helmberger said. “It is just too dangerous, the severity of the offense and the danger it created for dozen, if not hundreds of people cannot be understated.”
Helmberger said he found no evidence that Jackson planned any “ill will” with the gun.
Defense attorney Payal Khandar described Jackson as a good kid who needed help but said a jail sentence wouldn’t benefit Jackson.
“Jail would derail this trajectory that he is already on,” Khandar told the judge.
Prior to sentencing, Berz asked Jackson where he got the gun and he said he didn’t remember. Berz admonished Jackson for that reply and told him that there are consequences for being dishonest.
Jackson was sentenced to three years probation for the felony possession of a firearm on grounds of a school, two years probation on the felony charge of carrying a concealed weapon and one-year probation for the misdemeanor charge of obstructing an officer. The probations are concurrent, with Jackson serving all the sentences at the same time.
Berz said for each successful year of probation, one count drops off.
If there is a probation violation, Berz will consider sentencing on the felony charges.
“But you are not going to mess up, are you?” Berz asked Jackson.
“Correct,” Jackson answered.
Berz granted expungement of Jackson’s record if he successfully completes probation. The judge told Jackson that he had the chance to either “become a better person or do more stupid things.”
As part of sentencing, Jackson will have to work full-time or be involved in education or treatment for a combined 40 hours per week.
Berz ordered Jackson to take part in grief counseling and cognitive behavior counseling. He is prohibited from owning a firearm or weapon, or facsimile of a weapon.
Jackson will also have to write a letter to Sun Prairie High School Principal Keith Nerby, apologizing for the gun incident, as part of the sentencing conditions and complete 100 hours of community service by Nov. 1.