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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 at St. Lawrence County Court Friday.

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

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

Among those in attendance of the meeting to offer input was Colton-Pierrepont Central Superintendent. Joseph A. Kardash.

Mr. Kardash commended Ms. Duve’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 co-defendant Connor I. Warden, 17, also of Potsdam, allegedly headed to the Colton-Pierrepont Central School parking lot “to scope it out for a fight.”

At the time of the arrest, state police Investigator Christopher M. Nye said Pignona brandished the weapon from a car window, causing a panic that sent the school into lockdown.

Additionally, troopers were aware of reports of a possible Facebook feud involving students from Colton-Pierrepont and other districts.

Warden, who was also in attendance and participated in the July 9 meeting with his attorney, Gary Miles, allegedly drove ,Pignona to the school. He was also 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,” said Ms. Duve in Tuesday’s release. “It was vital to try and find a way to involve those most affected in reaching an appropriate resolution.”

Ms. Duve noted the meeting at the school was important because the teens needed to hear how their alleged actions affected other people. She also commended those from the school community for being open to such a meeting as a way to start the healing process.

Pignona will be back in court in September at which time the DA’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 of interim probation, Pignona will be required 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 about 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-Pierrepont community for the service of those hours.

Mr. Kardash said he hopes Colton-Pierrepont Central is the first school to allow him to make that 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, will help share that lesson to other students before they have to learn the hard way.

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

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