Two students charged with intimidation, rapes at school http://www.privateofficer.com
Star Tribune staff writers
Minneapolis MN June 23 2008
Between classes, police say, the two students worked the halls at Henry High School in Minneapolis, scouting out their next victim. Through persistence, cunning or intimidation, they would lure a girl to an isolated stairwell.
Once there, they took turns sexually assaulting the girl while the other stood lookout. Working in tandem, police say, they may be responsible for at least four assaults during school hours in May and June.
Santwoine Thornton, 17, and Raevon Conner, 18, have each been charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct in separate incidents of forcing a girl to perform oral sex. They could face more charges; police believe there are more victims at the school too afraid or ashamed to come forward.
“They were like spiders leading their victims to the spider web,” Sgt. Melissa Banham said.
It wasn’t until June 4 that police learned about the assaults at Henry, 4320 Newton Av. N. That day, a girl, 15, told a school official that another student forced her to have sex in a basement stairway near the choir and band rooms. Conner was arrested shortly afterward.
“This was taken seriously as soon as it was reported,” said Lt. Nancy Dunlap, sex crimes unit leader.
Through a series of detailed interviews, Banham learned about Thornton, who became the second suspect. The investigation led to three more victims under 17 who had been assaulted before June 4. Banham wouldn’t discuss specific evidence but said she has developed strong cases. Thornton was arrested Wednesday.
Police urged parents with students at Henry to talk with their children about the incidents and contact investigators if they know about these or other attacks at the school.
“The victims could have had a variety of reasons not to come forward right away,” Dunlap said. “But when Sgt. Banham did talk to them, her demeanor set them at ease and made it much easier to open up to her.”
Dunlap wouldn’t call Thornton, of Minneapolis, and Conner, of Brooklyn Park, serial rapists, but said three incidents is the definition of a serial rapist. She said neither teen has a criminal history. Authorities will seek to have Thornton tried as an adult.
In each incident, Dunlap said the suspects had a plan. They were alert to the locations of the school’s surveillance cameras, she said. They sometimes threatened their victims with physical harm if they told police, she said.
In a court document, the 15-year-old said she was concerned that something bad would happen when Conner led her to the basement stairwell, but didn’t feel she could stop it. He forced her to have sex for three minutes until the bell rang to change classes.
Police learned about a second victim who had been suspended from school in May, when she began skipping classes, a court document said. The girl’s mother learned that she preferred to be suspended rather than tell her or school officials that she was missing classes because of the assault, the document said.
As Thornton attempted to get the girl into a stairwell, a girlfriend whispered a warning because Thornton had tried something earlier with her. But Thornton was persistent, and the girl went with him, the document said.
He asked her for sex, but she said no. He then hugged and talked to her before assaulting her, the document said. She told him the school bell rang and Thornton and another student left the area.
In a letter to families this week, Principal Gary Kociemba said the district’s safety and security team will perform an assessment at the school. Similar reviews will occur in the district’s six other high schools this summer, said Ross Bennett, a district spokesman.
School board chair Lydia Lee said Friday she and the district are deeply concerned about the events at the school, which is consistently recognized as one of the best in the country for its rigorous academic programs.
“It certainly surprises me there’s this kind of activity over there,” Lee said. “I thought they made considerable progress addressing the climate at the school.”
Assistant principal Steve Simondet called the incidents “a real tragedy… .We hope this does not besmirch our school.”
Lee said she believes all schools in Minneapolis are safe.
“We try hard, this is really important to us that all students are safe,” Lee said. “We believed we implemented all the safety measures we needed, but somebody figured out another strategy.”
Lee said the incidents are symptomatic of what’s going on in the community.
“I don’t believe that the school is at fault in any way, nor should there be finger-pointing at the district,” Lee said. “I see this as a bigger question that needs to be addressed by all of us, the district, the police, the community and the city.”
Banham said there could be more victims “because of things I learned from the suspects.” Dunlap said Henry parents need to talk to their children about the assaults.
“This wasn’t one situation where somebody made a mistake,” Dunlap said. “This is serious.”
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Minneapolis MN. Nov. 27, 2007
The Minneapolis City Council settled for $4.5 million a lawsuit brought by undercover police officer Duy Ngo, who was shot by a fellow officer in 2003.
The council voted 11-1 to settle officer Ngo’s lawsuit, which sought $12 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages. Council member Lisa Goodman cast the only “no” vote.
The settlement is the largest involving a Minneapolis police officer. It will be paid out of the city’s self insurance fund.
Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak said the settlement was a considerable amount of money, but “it’s also staggering how often officers put their lives on the line.”
On Feb. 25, 2003, Ngo, was on gang surveillance when he was shot in the side during a confrontation with a man. Ngo’s life was saved by his bulletproof vest.
Ngo called for help and described the suspect who fled on foot. Responding officer Charles Storlie arrived on the scene while Ngo knelt under a streetlight waving his arms. Storlie got out of his car and almost immediately began firing his semiautomatic machine gun, shooting Ngo six times.
Ngo returned to work after rehabilitation but is restricted to desk duty because the shooting permanently injured his left hand, making him unable to grip a gun.
Ngo sued the city and Storlie for damages in 2004, claiming Storlie violated his civil rights by improperly using deadly force. The suit asked for $12 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages.
U.S. District Judge Richard H. Kyle ruled last year that the city was entitled to immunity in the case, but Storlie was not. Storlie appealed the ruling and lost. He resigned from the force in January, leaving for security work in the Middle East.
Bob Bennett, Ngo’s attorney, says Ngo was wearing a radio microphone and police insignia when he was shot. Bennett says the Vietnamese Ngo obviously didn’t match the physical description of the black suspect.
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