Editor's Note (March 14, 11:40am): This story has been updated to include additional information.
At around 1:20pm March 13, Seaside police responded to an incident at Seaside High School after a report of a teacher accidentally discharging a firearm in a classroom. That teacher, Dennis Alexander, is also a Seaside councilmember and reserve officer for Sand City Police Department, and he was teaching an administration of justice class (Alexander is also a math teacher).
"[Alexander] accidentally discharged his firearm during a lesson while it was pointed at the ceiling. Debris from the ceiling then fell,” according to a statement the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District’s superintendent’s office sent out to parents of students in the class.
According to a statement from Seaside police, Alexander “was believed to have been providing instruction related to public safety awareness.”
Seaside Police Chief Abdul Pridgen says a male student was struck in the neck by "debris or fragmentation" from something overhead, and was transported to the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula for treatment.
He emphasizes that it was not a bullet, and the injury was "not life threatening."
Seaside police are investigating the incident, Pridgen says, and so is the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District.
MPUSD Superintendent PK Diffenbaugh says Alexander has been put on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, and adds that as of Jan. 1, 2018, it is against state law for non-authorized individuals to bring a firearm on campus, and that Alexander was not authorized to do so. It is also against MPUSD board policy, Diffenbaugh says.
"Clearly, we will revisit this incident to ensure that something like this would never happen again," Diffenbaugh adds.
Sand City Police Chief Brian Ferrante says Alexander has also been put on administrative leave from his reserve duties pending the police department's own investigation into the incident. Ferrante says he believes Alexander had his last firearm training “a little less than a year ago.”
According to Fermin Gonzales III, the father of the 17-year-old student struck in the neck (who is named Fermin Gonzales IV), the incident occurred at around 10:30am Tuesday.
“Kids were laughing,” Gonzales III says his son told him after it happened, and that his son’s friends noted he was bleeding around the neck. His son stayed until the end of class, he says, around 11:30am, and then went to his aunt’s house.
"He was going to go to his next class, but he was pulling out metal fragments," Gonzales III says. "It was a soft metal."
His son’s uncle then called Gonzales III, who then called Seaside police as he went to pick up his son.
“I first tried calling the school to no avail,” Gonzales III says. “I was going to go straight to the school, but I didn’t. I called Seaside police myself and told them. They couldn’t believe it either.”
The statement MPUSD sent out to parents states: “Upon learning of the incident, the district’s human resources department, school site administration and the Seaside Police Department immediately began investigating the incident, including interviewing students in the class.”
If true, that means nearly three hours passed before the incident was reported to police.
In recalling his son’s telling of the incident, Gonzales III says Alexander apologized shortly after, and that another staff member then came to watch the class as Alexander apparently contacted school administration.
"Nobody from the office came in and looked at what had happened," he says, adding that his niece was also in the classroom. "She said [Alexander] was just there sitting in his chair. He was swimming in deep thought."
Nic Coury contributed to this report.