Disturbance at SPHS leads to citations including inciting a riot
As the end of the school year and graduation approaches what should have been a day of celebration instead turned into a problem for Santa Paula High School students, administrators and police Friday after Tweets of planned disruptions at an upcoming rally caused it to be cancelled.
What followed was a disturbance that included students throwing oranges at responding police officers; a school security officer was struck in the face by a thrown milk container.
Eight students were cited - including one for inciting a riot - following the disturbance that initially started shortly after 11 a.m.
The SPPD went to the 6th Street campus after being told of about 100 students fighting in the center quad area. School officials told police there were reports on social media that students were going to storm the Boys’ Gym even after the rally was canceled according to Tweets exchanged by some students that initially claimed “stink bombs” would be detonated during the rally.
SPPD Chief Steve McLean said the disturbance was targeting the traditional promotion rally where lower classmates step up to higher grades.
There had been a rising number of pranks between juniors and seniors in the weeks leading up to the promotion rally and “School administrators learned several kids were going to throw stink bombs in the gym during the rally,” said McLean.
“You can imagine the reaction if that happened... someone could get hurt, stampeded or trampled trying to get out of the building. The principal,” Elizabeth Garcia, “has an obligation to protect the kids and she did,” by canceling the rally.
Said McLean, “I understand and support that decision... “
Police left the campus but were called back around 12:28 p.m. after being told a large group of unruly students was causing a disturbance.
When they returned police found about 400 students in the quad area; it was during the second visit that the disturbance became more heated.
“It’s a black-eye for the students that this thing occurred at lunch,” when McLean said the problems that surfaced involved just a handful of students.
“Not all the students were involved but the intent of a few was to create and provoke a disturbance,” by Tweeting messages to fellow students urging them to “start a food fight with officers,” and “mob the gym” among other disruptive behaviors.
McLean said one message noted, “As long as we make the news I’m down,” for creating a disturbance not actively joined by other students.
But it appeared to garner support when students refused to return to class.
“If anybody is responsible for what happened it is this small group but the students in general had the obligation to go back to class.”
Instead, said McLean, “Some were trying to shout down the principal... “
He noted one student was the “provocateur and they were trying to escort him off campus for the third time that day... he tried to rally the rest of the students,” to resist forcefully, and “When the security guard was hit in the face with the carton of milk it crossed the line.”
School security detained eight students who were cited with inciting a riot. McLean said one student was also cited with battery on a school official.
Several students said they were treated shabbily and felt school and police officials overreacted.
One student said he was handled “like a rag doll,” by a police officer while others said they were frightened when officers displayed bean bag guns; several students said they all should not have been punished because of the actions of a few.
The few actively involved are names that McLean said are “No surprise” to school administrators and/or police.
“Those being held responsible are the provocateurs and those that refused to return to class... it’s really sad because they had their rally cancelled,” as well as a Luau planned that evening.
“But the biggest responsibility the principal has is to make sure of those kids’ safety, she had to make that call and it’s not a big stretch from throwing oranges at cops to throwing rocks and bricks. If two kids had started fighting with each other it could have turned into a melee.”
McLean said other students didn’t start the day with an intent of wrongdoing, but “They got caught up in a mob mentality and they went about things the wrong way... and when the principal gets on the bullhorn and says go back to class, you do.
“It was a small, small minority of students,” that were troublemakers and police will consider filing criminal charges.
“They’re all pretty much good kids, a lot of them did nothing but stood around and looked like they wished they had returned to class. It was just a handful that went too far.”
McLean said, “Unfortunately, it was a very painful lesson for students and I hope they learn from it. I’m sure they’ll look back and regret it... there are other ways to show your displeasure with a school decision than throwing oranges at cops and milk cartons at security guards.”