PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY — Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District officials welcome the coming police investigation into a racial incident that occurred at Santa Monica High School in May, said Board of Education President Jose Escarce.

The statement came after an African-American juvenile filed a report with the Santa Monica Police Department last Tuesday, alleging that he had been chained to a locker by two other juveniles in the wrestling room after passing by a wrestling dummy with a noose looped around its neck, said Sgt. Richard Lewis, a spokesperson for the department.

“One put a bear hug on him, and the other one looped the lock through the belt loop on his jeans and connected it to a cable,” Lewis said, referencing the juvenile’s statements in the report.

According to the report, the two other teens then left the locker room and returned to the wrestling room, allegedly uttering racial slurs.

Various versions of the story exist regarding the configuration of the 140-pound wrestling dummy and the noose, as well as what — if anything — was said when the two teens left the locker room.

Accounts also differ on how site administrators reacted to the events, with some saying that students were asked to delete any images they may have taken from smartphones or other devices, and others saying that administrators kept the images on a separate device, and then asked the students to delete them.

The details are important.

California law deems the use of a noose on school property, “knowing it to be a symbol representing a threat to life,” to be a hate crime punishable by a year in county jail or a $5,000 fine.

“We definitely want to know if the police think what happened comes to the level of a crime,” Escarce said.

The case has been assigned to an investigator, Lewis said.

“The investigation is being done now,” he said. “We could find out some of this is unfounded or untrue.”

If it’s true, a decision will have to be made whether or not administration should have reported the incident to the police straightaway, something Lewis described as a “fine line.”

A few things are known for certain.

After the incident, which occurred on May 4, counseling sessions were held on site for other members of the wrestling team that wanted to talk about the experience.

At those sessions, students were told to go home and tell their parents what happened.

Victoria Gray, the mother of the boy who was chained, was never informed, neither by her son nor by school officials.

She found out over three weeks later when a woman she had never met called her to tell her one version of events.

The two boys who allegedly did the chaining have been disciplined by the school with a three-day suspension. They will also have to help teach a freshman seminar on hazing.

The matter first came before the Board of Education at its meeting June 16, when Gray used public comment time to express her dissatisfaction with how the incident had been handled.

The topic is now officially agendized for the June 30 meeting, at which time the board will direct staff to look at curriculum about diversity and tolerance, ensure that staff receive sensitivity training, look at policies governing student behavior and make sure that students who were hurt by the incident get the support they need.

They will also consider bringing back the Intercultural District Advisory Committee, although, Escarce said, the committee would have more to say about curriculum than situations like this one.

Escarce also plans to request that the board commission an independent report by a third party not connected to the police department, the school district or any member of the administration to get to the bottom of the many versions of the events that allegedly took place on May 4.

“We need to sort out what happened and why it happened to try to prevent it in the future,” Escarce said.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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