A student accused of trying to bring a loaded shotgun into Omaha North High School appeared in a courtroom Friday packed with his supporters.
Prosecutors said 15-year-old David Russell was caught with a sawed-off shotgun inside a duffel bag.
The gun contained four shells. He had more ammunition inside his locker, prosecutors said.
A school security guard stopped Russell at the door and chased him down, police said.
Russell’s bond was set at $150,000. He’ll be charged as an adult.
Russell’s mother, Tina, left the courtroom surrounded by family members. She declined to comment.
However, the mother’s interviews with investigators showed that she was aware of troubling indications with her son.
She told them she recently found drugs in his room. She thought Russell has been using them regularly, according to the county attorney. She also said he has been missing school and stealing things from home.
Russell told prosecutors the gun was for protection. He said he thought rival gang members were going to jump him after school.
Given the type of gun and the amount of ammunition, questions were inevitably raised about whether North High School had dodged a Columbine-style attack.
“I would hope not,” said Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine. “But that’s always a concern. It’s in the back of everyone’s minds when you see something like this happen. Who knows what could have happened?”
A class-action suit filed Wednesday in Federal District Court in Brooklyn by the New York Civil Liberties Union and others states that the officers “engage in a policy and practice of unlawfully seizing and arresting schoolchildren,” in violation of the Fourth Amendment and state law. (See complaint below.)
The president of the union that represents school safety officers said he had not yet reviewed the lawsuit, but he added that the overwhelming majority of such officers perform their duties admirably.
In addition to damages, the suit seeks judicial orders that schools, rather than officers, deal with disciplinary issues; that the city establish a “transparent and meaningful mechanism” to lodge complaints about officers; and that the city impose new disciplinary measures for officers found guilty of misconduct.
Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the civil liberties union, said at a news conference in Lower Manhattan that school safety officers had wrongly arrested students who may have broken school rules but had not committed crimes.
“Students were handcuffed, arrested, perp-walked, jailed, pushed, shoved, kicked to the ground, threatened, taunted, injured, denied medical care, illegally interrogated, intimidated and humiliated,” she said.
Gregory Floyd, president Local 237 of the Teamsters, which represents the school safety officers, said that some disputes between students and officers could merit investigation, but that crime in schools had fallen significantly over the last several years, thanks in part to work by the school safety officers.
“If you look at the overall interaction of school safety agents with over a million children a day, we’re not talking about an epidemic of school safety agents being abusive,” he said by telephone.
A lawyer with the city’s Law Department, Celeste Koeleveld, said that the safety officer’s job was a difficult one. “Maintaining a safe environment for our children is paramount,” she said, “and it’s impossible to ignore the important balance — protecting children while keeping order — that they strive to meet every day.”
Several safety officers are also named as defendants in the suit.
The suit cites a widely reported 2007 case in which a student at East Side Community High School in Manhattan tried to enter school early and ended up being arrested after a confrontation with a school safety officer who would not let her in.
Other instances of misconduct alleged in the suit include a sixth grader at Hunts Point School in the Bronx handcuffed for drawing on a desk with an erasable marker and a ninth grader at Maxwell Career and Technical High School in East New York, Brooklyn, assaulted by school safety officers after she refused to surrender her book bag to one of them after it cleared the security checkpoint.
One plaintiff, a 13-year-old girl identified in court papers only as D.Y., appeared with Ms. Lieberman and said that she got into a disagreement with officers at the Lou Gehrig Junior High School in the Bronx last fall after she was threatened by unfamiliar adults outside the school. School safety officers instructed both D.Y. and the adults to go into the school building, D.Y. said, but she refused, preferring instead to wait outside for her mother. Then, she said, officers handcuffed her, tripped her, knelt on her back and taunted her.
The student’s mother, Donna Layne, said that she arrived at the school about an hour later to find her daughter still in cuffs.
“As a mother, this incident shook my world,” she said. “They abused her and it’s not right.”
The two 19-year-old victims suffered “non-life-threatening injuries” and were taken to an area hospital, said Officer Luis Samudio, a Phoenix police spokesman.
The 10-year-old was also grazed by a pellet discharged by the shotgun about 2:45 p.m. at the school near 25th Street and Bell Road, Samudio said.
A 16-year-old former student at the high school was arrested minutes later at his nearby home in connection with the shootings, Samudio said.
Both victims reportedly knew the suspected shooter. Police also credit witness accounts with the arrest.
Nearly 60 students are enrolled in grades nine through 12 at the charter school.
The school focuses on students learning English and prepares them for college or vocational schools. It opened in August of 2005.
Rockford School District spokesman Mark Bonne said the after-school fight started between two eighth-grade boys while they were waiting to board their bus.
“Security tried to break up the fight, and she got hit in the face,” Bonne said. “Both juveniles were arrested and taken to the Winnebago County Juvenile Detention Center.”
The charges were not available.
The condition of the security officer was not available, but “One tooth was knocked out,” Bonne said. He also confirmed the officer is being examined at the hospital for a possible broken jaw.
The incident occurred just three days after Superintendent LaVonne Sheffield announced at Tuesday’s School Board meeting that principals at Auburn High School and West Middle School have been reassigned. She also said RESA and Guilford High School have been put “on notice” for possible leadership changes as well.
Sheffield said the changes were made because of academic performance and “incivility among students and staff.”
Sheffield also announced at Tuesday’s board meeting: “We are sweeping the halls in our high schools and middle schools and sending home the handful of chronic truants who roam the building and take others off task. Those students will receive a one-way bus ride and (will be) barred from the building until they attend a re-entry meeting accompanied by a parent.”
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday she made good on that promise.
Over those three days, 128 students were rounded up between the three schools, Bonne said.
A teacher at W.T. White High School in northwest Dallas approached a student’s desk yesterday to check on his art project when she noticed him staring off into space. As the teacher tried to get his attention, the student pulled up his shirt and exposed himself.
The student began to moan and said “aye mami” before beginning to masturbate fervently in front of the teacher and classmates – 30 students, ranging from 14 to 17 years old.
The teacher was unable to stop the student from his continued masturbation and ran out of the classroom to get help from school police. The teacher told investigators that several students later told her “that was very scary,” the police documents say.
Martin Guerrero, 17, was arrested yesterday on a felony charge of indecency with a child (the child being his classmates). He’s being held in the Dallas County jail on $5,000 bail.
“We’re taking this very seriously,” said Marin Trujillo, spokesman for the West Contra Costa school district. “We’re shocked and dismayed that a sexual assault could happen on our campus during school time.”
The district placed Portola Middle School Principal Denise Van Hook and Vice Principal Matthew Burnham on paid leave for at least a week while it investigates Thursday’s breach of campus safety, Trujillo said.
The Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office, meanwhile, charged the 14-year-old suspect with felony sexual assault in Juvenile Court, El Cerrito police said.
Police declined to name the suspect, an eighth-grader, because of his age. They say he cornered the victim, a seventh-grader, shortly before 2:45 p.m., during the last period of the school day, police said.
The two knew each other, but not romantically. Detectives say the suspect forced a sex act upon the victim in a stairwell. At least two students witnessed the assault while passing by; one found an adult, while another physically interceded to stop the attack.
Police arrested the suspect at his home just a few hours after the attack. But how the rape happened — and what it says about school security — has rekindled fear and frustration in a community long concerned about a campus with a rough reputation.
“What’s making the kids do what they’re doing? What can we do to get them to know that this is not acceptable?” said Michelle Jawad, longtime school safety activist in El Cerrito. “I don’t think it’s going to be fixed unless everybody takes it from the middle of the list of things to be done and puts it to the top.”
On Monday morning, district Superintendent Bruce Harter attended an emergency staff meeting at Portola where teachers were told that all students had to be escorted when out of class for bathroom breaks or similar reasons.
“How could this occur? Is it safe at Portola? Those are the kinds of questions we’re hearing,” El Cerrito police Chief Scott Kirkland said. “It is interesting, the criminal mind. When a situation like this occurs, to actually do something like this … you have to be a little sick.”
Van Hook notified parents about the assault via e-mail about 11:45 p.m. Friday: “Our investigation is ongoing. All of us at Portola are committed to making sure our school is a safe place for all our students,” her note read in part.
Van Hook could not be reached for comment Monday.
Portola is being run this week by former El Cerrito High School administrator Mike Aaronian and Brenda King Randle. Students will be on break for two weeks starting next week.
The assault left the victim otherwise uninjured, police said. Both students attended school Thursday, but each was out of class for reasons still under investigation, Kirkland said.
The rape, Portola’s second high-profile safety breach in eight months, came just a few weeks after the group sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl outside the homecoming dance at neighboring Richmond High School. Police say that attack continued for about two hours before anyone reported it to authorities.
Jawad said she was “very encouraged” that students reported Thursday’s assault immediately.
“Maybe one of the good things that came out of (the Richmond High School rape) is that someone was brave enough to speak up,” she said. “Some of the students are seeing this and thinking, ‘Maybe this is not OK, and I need to report that.’”
But an upswell of campus violence last spring in El Cerrito prompted the district to sign a contract with the city police department to place an officer at Portola full time this school year, supplementing the campus’s four site supervisors. It already placed two city police at El Cerrito High School, beyond its own in-house security.
That deal came after a large group of students knocked down a teacher and threw rocks at her during a lunch period in May. Police arrested five students in connection with that attack.
“It’s like night and day,” Kirkland said of the improvement to campus safety brought about by the daily presence of a police officer. “This is very unusual.”
Last week, the school board got a lengthy presentation from district staff, county officials, police and community activists about improving safety throughout the district following the rape at Richmond High School in October. The board received various recommendations, and the district will work to prioritize and implement them in the coming months.
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