A South River High School senior who was expelled for having a shotgun in his car on school property described the matter Thursday as serious but small and asked to be allowed to return to class.
Patrick Bryan Mitchell, 18, received an automatic expulsion from the Edgewater school after the unloaded shotgun was found by South River officials Feb. 7.
Mitchell told a school system hearing examiner Thursday that he forgot he had left the gun in the back seat of his vehicle after going hunting the previous night.
School officials discovered the gun and several rounds of ammunition, and pulled Mitchell out of class to ask him about it.
"I had no intent of bringing it to school. I completely forgot about it," Mitchell said.
County police determined there was no threat but charged Mitchell with having a weapon on school property.
He pleaded guilty last month to one misdemeanor weapons count and received probation before judgment, meaning the incident can be expunged from his record in three years or less, according to his attorney, Richard R. Trunnell.
The expulsion under the Anne Arundel County public schools' code of conduct meant he couldn't play lacrosse with South River's team this season, and it bars him from the prom next month and his graduation ceremony in June. He's taking an English course online to finish the credits he needs to get his diploma.
Mitchell's mother, Terry Egley, said she believes a 10-day suspension would have been more appropriate. The family appealed the expulsion.
Hearing examiner Andrew Nussbaum took testimony Thursday in Annapolis for the appeal. He won't decide the case but will make a recommendation to the county school board.
"I believe it was a small mistake. It was a serious mistake, but a small mistake," Mitchell told Nussbaum.
Laurie Pritchard, the school system's director of legal services, disagreed.
"Bryan is by all accounts … a very nice young man, and I'm glad to say he's on track to graduate. This, however, is a very serious matter," Pritchard said. "We're talking about a shotgun in a car on school property with five rounds of ammunition located within the vehicle.
"The superintendent certainly does not consider possession of a shotgun with ammunition in a vehicle on school property … to be something small," Pritchard said.
After the hearing, Mitchell said he thought his chances of being reinstated for graduation were "a coin toss. I'm hoping it lands on my side."
"I just wanted [the hearing examiner] to realize that it was a mistake, and I had no ill intent on harming anyone," he said. "I love South River. I love everybody in it. It's just a shame."
Asked what he meant when he said the matter was "serious but small," Mitchell said, "It's easy to forget … just like people forget their cellphones and forget their wallets. It's something I forgot."