PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY — There’s no evidence to suggest that staff at Santa Monica High School intimidated witnesses or destroyed evidence in connection with an alleged racial incident at the campus, law enforcement officials said Monday.

An African-American student and member of the Samohi wrestling team told police that on May 4 he had been chained to a locker by two other juveniles who proceeded to yell racial slurs. This allegedly happened after he passed by a wrestling dummy with a noose looped around its neck, the student told police.

The Santa Monica Police Department completed its investigation into the alleged hate crime last month and presented its findings to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for filing. The case is still under review, said SMPD Sgt. Richard Lewis.

During the investigation, police received reports that staff at the high school disposed of cell phone photos taken by students of the alleged hate crime. Other sources said the administrators kept the images on a separate device and then asked students to delete them.

Since there is such a close relationship between the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and City Hall, Santa Monica Police Chief Tim Jackman was concerned about a potential conflict of interest. He decided to bring in the sheriff’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau to see if staff at the high school or within the school district violated any laws.

City Hall sends millions of dollars annually to the SMMUSD as part of a joint-use agreement that gives residents access to some of the school district’s facilities, including sports fields.

Sheriff’s investigators conducted interviews and reviewed crime reports, written statements and photographs and found no probable cause to believe that any staff members at Samohi or any employee of the SMMUSD engaged in any criminal misconduct.

The alleged incident sparked intense debate at school board meetings and a forum on race held at Samohi on Oct. 29. There have also been several community meetings involving a mediator from the U.S. Department of Justice where residents have been able to talk openly about their own experiences with race without the presence of the media.

The school board has pledged to update curriculum, reform policies and retrain staff to react appropriately to any racial incidents in the future. The board has also committed to hiring a third-party investigator to review and examine the alleged incident and determine whether existing policies, practices and procedures were followed, and to make recommendation about changes that should be made. Results of that investigation will be made public, district officials said.

“[The investigation] found out what we believed to be true and that is there were no criminal actions on behalf of any employees in the district,” said school Superintendent Sandra Lyon. “Now we will begin our investigation to examine our policies, practices and process to see if there is anything we can amend or shore up.

“We want to use this as an opportunity to make our district better and to work with the community to make it stronger,” she added. “I think we have started a good conversation about race and diversity and we will keep doing that work.”

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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