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Teen pleads guilty to bringing rifle on school grounds

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CANTON — The Hannawa Falls teen arrested for allegedly wielding a rifle on school grounds in March pleaded guilty to two charges, including a felony, in a plea deal Friday in St. Lawrence County Court.

Sawyer M. Pignona, 16, pleaded guilty to criminal possession of a weapon on school grounds, a class E felony, and second-degree menacing, a class A misdemeanor.

According to a release from St. Lawrence County District Attorney Nicole M. Duvé’s office, the plea was a result of an agreement reached after an extensive meeting July 9 at the school among Colton-Pierrepont Central School officials, Ms. Duvé, Mr. Pignona and his attorney, Anthony M. Neddo.

Among those at the meeting was Colton-Pierrepont Superintendent Joseph A. Kardash.

Mr. Kardash commended Ms. Duvé’s office and said he was glad to see the school and community involved “in what might be the appropriate first step in the healing process.”

“As an educator, we certainly look at any of these incidents as an opportunity to teach, get better and move forward,” Mr. Kardash said.

On March 18, Mr. Pignona and codefendant Connor I. Warden, 17, also of Potsdam, allegedly headed to the Colton-Pierrepont Central School parking lot “to scope it out for a fight.”

State police Investigator Christopher M. Nye said Mr. Pignona brandished the weapon from a car window, causing a panic that sent the school into lockdown.

Mr. Warden, who also participated in the July 9 meeting with his attorney, Gary W. Miles, allegedly drove Mr. Pignona to the school. He also was charged with criminal possession of a weapon on school grounds and is awaiting a pretrial conference date.

“This was alarming conduct and it had a very profound impact on the school, the victim and the surrounding community,” Ms. Duvé said in Tuesday’s release. “It was vital to try and find a way to involve those most affected in reaching an appropriate resolution.”

Ms. Duvé said the meeting at the school was important because the teens needed to hear how their alleged actions affected other people.

Mr. Pignona will be back in court in September, at which time the district attorney’s office anticipates he will be sentenced to interim probation for one year to allow him to fulfill certain obligations under the plea agreement.

Included in the requirements, Mr. Pignona will have to participate in community service in the form of a minimum one-hour presentation to be given at all consenting school districts in St. Lawrence County. The presentation is expected to include a discussion of the events leading up to the criminal conduct, the consequences, the impact on others and the community, the role of social media and lessons learned. For every school district that chooses not to participate, 25 hours of community service will be imposed, with priority to be given to the Colton community for those hours.

Mr. Kardash said he hopes Colton-Pierrepont Central is the first school to allow him to make his presentation.

“It’s our job to teach and this is a teachable moment,” Mr. Kardash said. “The young man pleaded guilty to a felony, which is no small deal.”

Mr. Kardash added that not only will Mr. Pignona learn a lesson, but through the presentations, he will help share that lesson with other students before they have to learn the hard way.

Full compliance and successful completion of interim probation would earn him the opportunity to have his felony plea vacated in exchange for a plea to two misdemeanors and a sentence of three years’ probation. Because of his age, he also may be adjudicated a youthful offender at the discretion of the court.

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