After unintentionally discharging a firearm in a Seaside High School classroom March 13, Dennis Alexander’s teaching career hangs in the balance.
Both the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District and Seaside police are investigating the incident, which could not only cost Alexander his job, but also lead to charges from the county District Attorney’s Office; Seaside Police Chief Abdul Pridgen says SSPD expects to submit its findings to the DA by March 23. Alexander was put on paid administrative leave following the incident.
If Seaside High’s students had any say in the matter, Alexander’s job would be safe: More than 100 students showed up March 15 to a Seaside City Council meeting to voice their support for Alexander, who, in addition to being a teacher, is a Seaside councilman and Sand City reserve police officer.
At times, Alexander fought to hold back tears as students expressed gratitude for his dedication to his students.
“Family is forever, mistakes are temporary,” said Sydney Johnson, a Seaside High junior who helped organize the show of support.
Alexander, who declined to be interviewed about the incident, thanked his students for rallying behind him.
“Any undue stress this has caused the community, I am deeply sorry for, but I am extremely grateful for you showing your support. God bless you, and do good in school.”
It sounded like a goodbye.
Among the three students who received minor injuries in the incident is 17-year-old Fermin Gonzales IV, who was struck in the neck by fragmentation believed to be from a bullet. In a March 14 meeting at the Dunnion Law firm in Monterey, Gonzales said that after the gun went off – at sometime between 10:30am and 11am – he felt a “stinging” in his neck, but “not as bad as a burn.”
Thomas Dunnion, Gonzales’ attorney, asked what Alexander said after the gun went off: “Please don’t tell anyone.”
But Abigail Hernandez, a student who was near the front of the classroom, says Alexander did not say that – she says he apologized and asked if any students were hurt.
She says the classroom was silent after the gun went off. Hernandez doesn’t recall Alexander ever bringing a real gun to class before March 13, though she didn’t find it unusual, “considering he is a cop.”
But video surfaced March 16 that purportedly shows a Seaside High student handling a pistol in a classroom.
Johnson, the junior who rallied student supporters, says Alexander would allow students to pass an unloaded gun around the classroom, but only so they could learn how to use the safety.
Seaside High senior Jair Rojas concurs with Johnson’s account, and recalls Alexander letting students handle his gun. Yet Rojas remains firmly in Alexander’s corner: “He’s one of the top teachers I’ve ever had,” he says.
Johnson and Rojas are among the students planning to go to MPUSD’s April 10 board meeting to voice support for Alexander. “I’m not giving up on this issue,” Johnson says.
MPUSD doesn’t have timeline for when its investigation will conclude, but among the facts not in dispute is that Seaside police weren’t notified about the incident – which occurred in a portable outbuilding – until around 1:20pm, about three hours after it happened.
UPDATE: Seaside Police released the following statement March 23 about their investigation into the incident.
On March 13, 2018, Dennis Alexander, a teacher at Seaside High School, discharged a firearm
toward the ceiling in his classroom during an educational demonstration. After interviewing
approximately thirty individuals, the Seaside Police Department has completed its investigation
into this incident. The case has been forwarded to the Monterey County District Attorney’s
Office for review. They will determine if there are any relevant charges.