Parents Question Police Response To School Fight

By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Anne Arundel police launched an internal investigation yesterday after parents lodged formal complaints that accused officers of responding improperly and injuring students while breaking up a brawl at Meade High School on the last day of classes.

Eleven students were arrested and five police officers suffered minor injuries in the fight last Friday that began with two students arguing over a stolen cellphone as a circle of students formed around them. Officers said that when they stepped in to keep the teenagers from fighting, several students attacked them.

Anne Arundel police issued a statement yesterday, saying, "the department believes the officers used great restraint and acted appropriately, preventing an escalation to what could have been a very dangerous situation."

But parents and students said several students suffered bruises, gashes and other wounds at the hands of officers. Police said their investigation will include examining footage of the chaotic incident in the school gym taken by students on their cellphones and now circulating on the social Web sites of teenagers.

"I'm not saying my son is perfect. I don't know if he did anything," said Rita Swann, who said her son, Delante Wylie, 16, was arrested. "But what the officer said happened and what I saw on the footage don't match."

Five officers were at the school at the time, and at least one called for backup, police spokesman Cpl. Mark Shawkey said. The call brought several more officers to the school, including authorities from neighboring Fort Meade and the National Security Agency, as well as the Sheriff's Department.

The 11 students arrested are ages 15 to 18. Only 18-year-old Stacie N. Beauford's information has been released by police, because the others are juveniles. When reached at home in Severn, Beauford would only say that her mother planned to file a complaint with school and police officials.

The teens were arrested on a variety of charges, including disorderly conduct, assault, resisting arrest and disruption of school activities. One 16-year-old was charged with marijuana possession.

Some of the footage circulating on shows a frenzied scene in the gym as officers pull a teenager out of the crowd and wrestle him to the floor while other students swarm.

Swann believes the teenager in the footage is her son. When she picked him up from the police station, he had a gash on his head near the hairline and scratches on the side of his face.

Her son and other students also said officers used nightsticks during the altercation -- an allegation she said the district commander disputed when they met yesterday.

"I don't think anything was really resolved," said Glenda Gathers, a community activist who accompanied the parents who met with police yesterday. "The police, of course, can't just drop all the charges now, but what they did was excessive."

During most school days, Meade has one resource officer on site, but authorities posted five police officers there for the last day because of previous incidents. "They were there in case something like this happened," Shawkey said.

The fight at Meade capped a year that has recorded other violence involving local students. The academic year began with the arrest of 19 students at Annapolis High School after a series of fights among teenagers from rival public-housing neighborhoods. A few months later, other fights among Annapolis teens escalated into a gunfight at a shopping mall.

Most recently, in neighboring Howard County, a teenager died after being struck with a baseball bat during a midnight brawl at a football field in Ellicott City.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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