A teenager who was accused of stealing a 65-cent carton of milk from a Prince William County middle school cafeteria will not face trial after prosecutors decided to drop charges against him Thursday.
Ryan Turk, now 15, was arrested in May at Graham Park Middle School in Triangle, Va., after he allegedly cut in the lunch line and grabbed a milk container. Ryan, who qualifies for free lunch at the school, said that he had forgotten to take milk while in line in the cafeteria and decided to return for it.
A school resource officer arrested him and charged him with disorderly conduct and petit larceny after authorities said he objected to being sent to the principal’s office.
Ryan’s mother turned down an offer of nonjudicial punishment and decided to fight the charges; a trial had been scheduled to begin Thursday morning. Prosecutors dropped the charges after speaking with the teen’s counselor.
“He’s already taken actions to remedy his attitude,” Prince William County Commonealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said.
Emmett Robinson, an attorney for Ryan, said the family will petition to have the charges removed from the teen’s record after a year. “This is over for the time being,” Robinson said.
As word of the charges spread last year, the case became part of a national conversation about the fairness of school discipline, in general, and the treatment of minority students, in particular.
Ryan and his mother, Shamise Turk, acknowledge that he took a carton of milk on May 10, during last school year, but they say he did nothing wrong by coming back for the drink. They alleged that Ryan was discriminated against because he is a black teenager who did not want to go along with a police officer and that the officer was being unfair.
The officer and the principal involved are also black, something county school officials noted last year in responding to the claims that the student was targeted because of his race.
The school resource officer told authorities that Ryan cut in the lunch line, took a carton and concealed it. The officer who confronted him reported that Ryan threw the milk back. When the officer suggested that he needed to speak with the principal, he became disorderly, police said at the time.
Sgt. Jonathan Perok, a Prince William police spokesman, said in September that the middle-schooler “leaned back and pushed against the officer” and that as the student and officer approached the principal, the teen tried to “push past the officer to get away.” The family has disputed that account, saying that Ryan did not conceal the milk and that the officer confronted him aggressively.
The Washington Post generally does not identify minors charged with misdemeanor crimes, but Ryan and his family chose to pursue the matter publicly to call attention to it.
Ryan declined to comment about the case Thursday.
Shamise Turk said it had been hard for her son to refocus. “His grades are scattered and he’s stressed out,” she said.
His mother, who began pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice after her son was arrested, said the family’s ordeal carries a message for other parents.
“Listen to your kids, back them up a hundred percent and don’t settle,” she said. “If you know your kid has done nothing wrong, don’t settle for what they offer. Just keep going. Be their voice.”