Alarmed by what they say is a growing number of racially motivated assaults involving juveniles in Charles County, the Maryland State Police want to station officers in all four county high schools, a move school officials say is unnecessary.
None of the incidents took place on school grounds, State Police Sgt. Steve Rupard said, "but we wanted to see if these problems are starting in school and spilling out after hours."
"We're seeing something down here that was not present before," said Lt. Jesse Graybill, commander of the State Police for the region of Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's counties. Graybill said police liaison programs similar to those proposed for Charles are working well in neighboring Calvert County.
But school officials say that assaults with racial overtones are not a problem at their high schools. "We haven't seen any compelling evidence that would trigger an alarm or warrant that kind of police presence," said La Plata High School Principal Cecil Short.
Rupard said that since mid-September police have investigated at least eight assaults, mostly involving juveniles, in which several persons attacked one victim of another race. Graybill said other assaults may have gone unreported or been handled by the Charles County Sheriff's Department.
Several victims were hospitalized with broken jaws or concussions, or required dental work or plastic surgery to correct their injuries, Rupard said. Arrests have been made in six cases, with about 15 teen-agers charged with aggravated assault and battery, police said.
The assaults appeared random, police said, because none the victims apparently knew their assailants and none of the youths arrested would say what prompted the attacks. Police said the seeming randomness and use of racial epithets made them consider the assaults acts of racial violence.
County law enforcement officials say the apparent increase in racially motivated attacks may be due in part to a general crime escalation. Overall serious crime in the county -- including reported rapes, armed robberies and thefts -- was up 5 percent for the first nine months of 1985 over all of 1984, while aggravated assault reports jumped 14 percent from 173 to 198. Through last September, 79 juveniles were charged with assaults, compared with 75 in all of 1984.
"Charles is changing from a rural backwater to a suburban bedroom community by leaps and bounds, and these figures are part of the price," Rupard said. Graybill said Charles is "a rather quiet, closed community" where blacks, about 19 percent of the population, are the only sizable minority.
Last Halloween, seven black youths in a car in a Pinefield neighborhood allegedly attacked a white boy riding a skateboard. Rupard said that the victim was hospitalized with head injuries and that all seven youths were charged with aggravated assault..
Rupard said arrests are pending in another case, in which three white teen-agers allegedly attacked a black youth sitting by a small pond in St. Charles Nov. 11. "They kicked him in the head and face and broke his jaw in two places and fractured his nose," he said.
On Nov. 23, police said, two black youths attacked and racially taunted a white usher who asked them to leave the Circle Showcase theater in La Plata after warning them they were disturbing others.
In other cases, three black youths in a car were charged with throwing large chunks of ice at a white driver leaving Shoppers World in Waldorf Nov. 27, and three white teen-agers allegedly jumped a black youth, who was hospitalized for mouth wounds and dental surgery. And Rupard said police charged two Washington youths in connection with an incident Dec. 12 in which four black males attacked a white clerk at TNT Fashions in Waldorf after she asked them to leave.
Graybill said these "troubling incidents" led him to write last month to School Superintendent John Bloom last month to suggest putting a police officer in each high school to improve communications. But after a meeting with Graybill, school principals and Bloom rejected the idea. . "There is no racial hatred or tension to alleviate," said Short of La Plata.
The principals did express concern about several interracial fights between rival football teams at White Plains Regional Park, and extra undercover police were put at the games, according to Capt. Jim Gartland, head of the Sheriff's Department's investigative unit.
Charles, unlike Montgomery and Prince George's counties, has no reporting mechanism to flag assaults that appear to be racially motivated, but Gartland said the sheriff's department has not seen anything "dramatic or unusual" in the increased number of assaults involving juveniles.
However, Graybill said he has sent copies of his letter to the principal and intends to raise his concerns at a school board meeting. "I think it's important that the school board is aware of what we see as a potentially escalating problem."