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Mountain Vista High School threat case: Court says Johnson doesn't have to give up mental records

Posted at 10:24 AM, Oct 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-03 20:38:14-04

DENVER -- A teenager accused in a deadly school plot does not have to share her mental health records with prosecutors, nor does she have to submit to an assessment by a state doctor, to get a hearing requesting her case be moved from adult court to juvenile court, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday.

Brooke Higgins and Sienna Johnson were both 16 years old when they arrested last December. The two were accused of plotting a deadly attack at Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch.

Higgins and Johnson were charged as adults with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder after deliberation.

Attorneys for both girls requested a reverse-transfer hearing. Meaning they want a judge to decide if the cases can be moved from adult court, back to juvenile court.

Sienna Johnson ruling

In Johnson's case, the Colorado Supreme Court was asked two questions.

1. When a juvenile requests a reverse-transfer hearing, does she waive her psychotherapist-patient privilege, thereby authorizing a trial court to order her to produce privileged mental health records?

The court ruled nothing in the statute states that a juvenile waives her psychotherapist-patient privilege.

2. Does the trial court have the power to order a juvenile to submit to a state mental health assessment?

The court ruled that because nothing in the statute explicitly grants a trial court the power to order a mental health assessment, a trial court cannot order such an assessment.

The next hearing for Johnson is Oct. 21.

Brooke Higgins

In Higgins' case, the Colorado Supreme Court did not answer these two questions.

For question No. 1, the court said "it does not answer that question here because it is hypothetical -- the question is not based on the facts of this case."

For question No. 2, the court said it did not answer that question, "Because Higgins consented to the evaluation while represented by counsel and any claims that ineffective assistance of counsel vitiated Higgins' consent are premature."

The next hearing for Higgins is Wednesday.

Authorities tipped to threat

Higgins and Johnson were arrested one day after the school was notified of the threat, they believe by a a student, over the Text-A-Tip line. It's a program used in high schools in Douglas County, Castle Rock, Parker, Elizabeth and Elbert County. Many similar programs exist in other districts.

Prosecutors, during a January hearing, said Higgins told a friend she and another girl would shoot up the school and that she'd send the friend a text warning her not to come to school on the day they planned to attack.

Prosecutors said Higgins searched online for places where underage kids could buy guns and looked up if minors could purchase guns at gun shows. Higgins visited Armslist.com - which is like Craigslist for weapons, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Higgins used her cell phone to search “female mass shooter,” and that she had written in her journal that she wished she could have been part of the Columbine attack. She also took a photo of herself in front of Columbine High School, prosecutors said.

Her defense attorney said searching websites for a gun isn’t a crime and being fascinated with Columbine isn’t a crime.

Higgins' lawyer said her case is very different from Johnson's and that there is no evidence of wrongdoing. The defense said Higgins kept a journal, as part of her ongoing therapy, but didn't write about the alleged attack plan.

“This is a thought crime, at best,” the defense attorney said.

Higgins' lawyers claim that investigators have centered their flimsy case around her therapy journal and her cell phone, which they say were seized without proper consent.

"There is no direct evidence in this case of Defendant’s possession of any weapons, bombs, or incendiary devices," attorneys stated. "Instead, the prosecution’s theory hinges upon entries written in Defendant’s personal journal, which was seized by law enforcement without a warrant and without consent of either Defendant or her parents."

Higgins' attorney issued a statement distancing his client from Johnson. She called them acquaintances, not close friends, and said they only knew each other for a short time.

"They have different backgrounds, personalities, motivations and behaviors," attorney Dagny Van Der Jagt stated.

Johnson's journal had the names of people she planned to target, prosecutors said during a motions hearing in January.

Prosecutors said Johnson wrote that she “found someone who’s got what it takes,” and they were going to be “unstoppable” and “prove what we are capable of.” Johnson also wrote they'd make the school "a living f***ing nightmare," according to the district attorney.

Prosecutors said Johnson bought a BB gun to practice her shooting skills and mapped out plans to attack Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch.

Prosecutors said Johnson had a detailed map of where everyone in the school would be and knew the school resource officer schedule.

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