‘Police brutality’ alleged in student arrest

May 22, 2014

Rumors spread like wildfire via social media about the events that occurred at the Bear Creek student parking lot on Thursday, April 24.

According to an article in “The Record,” three adult non-students entered the campus and started a fight with one student. During the commotion, several other fights broke out and 20 police officers were dispatched to the scene.

“Uninvited guests came to our school for certain things that students at our school supposedly had, and the arguments over this object led to a fight,” AP Dennis To said. “The guests were confirmed to be past students of Bear Creek, and the police were contacted to deal with the situation accordingly.”

The Friday after the brawl a rumor circulated on social media “that ‘someone’ was going to come shoot up the school,” according to an email sent to staff by Atterberry. Atterberry issued a school-wide phone call to all parents notifying them about the possible gun threat.

According to attendance secretary Kathy Shelton, from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.  approximately 585 kids were signed out of the office by a parent or guardian. Additional officers were requested by Gonzalez as a safeguard in case the rumors were true.

addition, campus security advisors and School Resource Officer (SRO) Erika Gonzalez were immediately notified of the disturbance and dispatched to the scene. Within minutes, the fight was quelled, and the evidence— including pictures of students forced down on the ground by the police and videos of the fight— was spread all over Twitter, Instagram and other social networking sites.

“There were many students egging the fight on, and lots of people with cameras taking pictures and videos,” senior Alex Perez, who was a witness to the fight, said. “Everything was chaotic; Ms. Tony was even yelling ‘Police Brutality.’”

The officers reacted under official protocol in order to keep the situation under control. The actions of the police, however, were questioned by campus security Shanetta Tony.

“I just felt that excessive force was being used,” Tony said, admitting that she called out “Police Brutality” in response to sophomore Emoni Thurmond’s arrest. “My job is to protect the students. If I can’t do anything, I feel helpless.”

“The police said I was trying to fight them,” Thurmond said, noting that she was charged with resisting arrest. “They came up to me and placed me under arrest, but they didn’t read me my Miranda rights. How did I resist arrest if they didn’t read me my Miranda rights?”

Thurmond said that she had bruises and scrapes from the arrest and that she has hired a lawyer and plans to fight the charges in court.

According to To, the police were trying to contain the situation and get the crowd under control.

“The police were only stopping students that were creating a disturbance and trying to impede the officers from doing their job, which is to stop the fight,” To said.

“It’s not police brutality,” Gonzalez said, clearing up the rumor that no student had been tazed during the melee.  “The people who were involved and detained were let go once the investigation was complete. If you are a staff member, you should calm down the crowd and move them along, not excite them.”

“If [the police] were not doing anything wrong, why did [the students] have to put their cell phones away?” Tony questioned.

Tony added that one of the non-students hit her in the back during the fight, after which she had to take a few days off of work under doctor’s advice because her back was swollen. She says she does not plan to to file a police report. Tony also admits that she encouraged students to take out their cell phones to record what was happening during the arrest.

“I told the kids to take out their cell phones,” Tony said. “We live in such a viral world. If you have no proof, who will believe you?”

Principal Bill Atterberry said, in response to whether he condoned any of Tony’s behavior, that his expectation of campus security is to protect and ensure the safety of students, and that nothing the campus security does will interfere with that priority, including inciting students to be involved. (Still need direct quotation)

In the weeks following the fight, three of the campus supervisors including Tony, Don Tirapelli, and Harley Vancourt have been absent from the campus. With a combined experience of over 40 years at Bear Creek, the sudden disappearance of the supervisors three weeks prior to the end of the school year has raised questions.

Tirapelli confirmed he was transferred to Tokay High School, but says that he was given no reason by the district for the transfer.

“I have a feeling that there was another employee that said they would be much happier if I wasn’t there,” Tirapelli said. “It was all of a sudden and I was offered no reason for the transfer.”

Gonzalez has confirmed that Tirapelli’s transfer had nothing to do with the incidents related to the fight. Likewise, campus supervisor Anthony Sulfaro confirmed that Vancourt is out on a knee injury due to the events of the fight.

However, upon being questioned about the sudden disappearance of the three campus supervisors, Atterberry declined to comment and said that he could not comment on personnel matters. Gonzalez, on the other hand, confirmed that Tony’s actions during the melee are still part of an ongoing investigation.

The Friday after the brawl a rumor circulated on social media “that ‘someone’ was going to come shoot up the school,” according to an email sent to staff by Atterberry. Atterberry issued a school-wide phone call to all parents notifying them about the possible gun threat.

According to attendance secretary Kathy Shelton, from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.  approximately 585 kids were signed out of the office by a parent or guardian. Additional officers were requested by Gonzalez as a safeguard in case the rumors were true.

“My message to all of you is that our security worked,” Atterberry said.  “The situation was diffused.  The biggest problem we had was dealing with huge crowds of gawking kids.”

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