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Father of student detained for fake ammo belt says police overreacted

The father of a Fitchburg State University sophomore expelled last week and detained for 10 days by police after wearing a fake ammunition belt on campus said authorities overreacted to his son’s “fashion statement.”

“I’m as shocked and outraged as anyone about what happened in Newtown [Conn.], but when the state troopers took my son to the station, they should have realized that the ammunition belt was fake and given him a $25 fine and let him on his way,” Peter Despres, father of Andrew K. Despres, who was arrested Dec. 18 for trespassing and carrying ammunition, said Thursday.

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Despres said his son wore the belt as an “expression of his fashion sense.’’

“He’s been wearing that belt for over a year on campus and never had any problems,” Despres said in a phone interview. “I think the police have ruined his reputation, and he was expelled from school on a bogus charge. His name has been slandered and his reputation has been dragged through the mud.’’

Andrew Despres, 20, of New Bedford, was expelled on Dec. 17 for violating the university’s zero-tolerance policy for allegedly possessing marijuana and a knife in a dorm room. He was told to contact school police before returning to campus to pick up belongings.

But on the next day, authorities say, he returned to campus without notifying police and was arrested for trespassing and possession of ammunition.

“While being arrested, a campus police officer observed that Despres had a belt made of what appeared to be ammunition, similar to that used by the military for feeding large capacity rifles,” Matthew J. Bruun, spokesman for the college, said Thursday in a statement. “As required by the district attorney, the evidence was sent to the State Police to determine whether the items in question are considered ammunition under Massachusetts state law.”

‘Maybe he didn’t use good common sense in this climate.’

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Despres was arraigned Dec. 19, and a Fitchburg District Court judge ordered him held on $50,000 cash bail. But in a subsequent hearing Wednesday in Worcester Superior Court, the bail was reduced to $500, which was posted by his parents, with contributions from 52 of his friends who showed up.

Despres was released from custody Thursday afternoon. He was restricted to home confinement and ordered to wear a GPS device. He was also ordered not to set foot on the Fitchburg State campus.

Barbara Despres, Andrew Despres’s grandmother, said that while her grandson sometimes changed his hair color from purple to blue and wore clothing that some might consider quirky, he had never been in any legal trouble and is always well behaved.

“Maybe he didn’t use good common sense in this climate, but the way he dresses is a reflection of his personality,’’ she said.

Andrew K. Despres’s case has attracted attention amid heightened concern nationwide over security at schools, following the Newtown massacre.

Peter Langman, a psychologist who wrote the book “Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters,’’ said wearing a fake ammunition belt on campus “sounds like a provocative act, whether he intended that or not.”

“But what’s important to remember is that the music a person listens to, the clothing they wear, or the violent video games they play doesn’t mean there’s danger with that person,” Langman said. “The key is attack-related behavior, anything that indicates they’re planning an attack, from stockpiling weapons or drawing diagrams of schools, for example, or suggesting to a friend to join them in shooting up a school.”

Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @globeballou.
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