PRINEVILLE — Not long after the fourth- and fifth-graders at Steins Pillar Elementary School gathered Friday, Jan. 7, for their first assembly in two years, Crook County Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Elliott arrived and slapped very real handcuffs on an unsuspecting 11-year-old.

The boy’s crime?

A package of stolen doughnuts had been found in a backpack planted near him before the assembly.

Punishment could include 30 days in jail and a $1,250 fine.

But it was all in good fun and accompanied by a lesson in constitutional rights for the 75 students, who nonetheless squealed with delight as classmate Landon Bisset was briefly led away.

“I didn’t do it,” Landon said. “I was framed.”

The lesson Friday was delivered by Circuit Judge Daina Vitolins, whose judicial district covers Crook and Jefferson counties, and Crook County District Attorney Wade Whiting.

And though Landon’s "arrest" was entertaining, Vitolins and Whiting explained to the children that the sheriff’s lieutenant made several major errors.

Elliott had no probable cause to search the backpack — which may not have even been Landon’s — and he didn’t have a search warrant. Elliott also didn’t notify Landon of his rights to remain silent and have an attorney present during questioning, a.k.a. Mirandize him.

“That’s a violation of Landon’s rights, right?” Vitolins asked the students.

Constitution Day is celebrated each year on Sept. 17, the day the document was signed in 1787. In Prineville, the date traditionally involved a field trip to the courthouse building. This year, the pandemic pushed back the date and prevented a courthouse visit.

The supreme law of the land, the U.S. Constitution, amended only 27 times, protects Americans’ most basic rights.

The judge asked the students if they knew any of those rights.

Speech. Religion, they offered.

“Free freedom?” one child suggested.

Several kids were chosen to wear a judicial robe, while all the others were made to stand in deference.

The judge asked if a majority of people can sometimes be wrong.

“Why can’t the Legislature pass a law saying if you’re a Beaver fan, you can’t drive a car? Or what if we say, no pink hair allowed?” she said. “Majority rules, right?"

The audience buzzed with responses. One child shouted: “Because it’s not right.”

The judge agreed.

Many questions were directed at Elliott, the sheriff’s lieutenant.

“Would you have Tased him if he wasn’t a kid?” one girl asked about Landon.

“I wouldn’t have Tased him,” Elliott responded.

“When is the appropriate time to threaten a criminal with a gun?” a boy asked.

“We don’t threaten criminals with guns,” Elliott said. “But if we believe someone’s life is in danger, we will use deadly physical force.”

Whiting asked the kids if they are subject to household rules, and why their parents have those rules.

“We want you to be the best you can be, and to stay safe and healthy,” he said. “And I’m kind of like Crook County’s parent. I want everyone to get along and stay safe and healthy.”

Whiting, who’s scheduled to be sworn in as the next circuit court judge for Crook and Jefferson counties on Monday, asked how many of the students wanted to be a lawyer.

Only a few hands shot up.

One girl wanted to make sure “there’s less criminals.” Another child wanted to “make the world right.”

But one student brought a smile to Whiting’s face.

“My parents told me I like to argue, so I should be a lawyer,” she said.

Reporter: 541-383-0325,

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