PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY — Two juveniles responsible for what has been described as a racial incident at Santa Monica High School this spring are enrolling in a diversion program meant to keep kids from turning into career criminals.
In a statement released by the Santa Monica Police Department Thursday afternoon, the teens, who are said to have chained an African-American member of the Samohi wrestling team to a locker and yelled “slave for sale,” will participate in the Juvenile Offender Intervention Network, an arbitration process for youth created by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
In exchange, no criminal charges will be filed.
To participate in the program, which went countywide in 2003, parents and young offenders enter into a year-long contract in which the teens acknowledge responsibility for their acts and agree to pay restitution, attend school regularly, maintain their grades and perform community service.
Parents agree to attend parenting classes and all families are referred to group counseling, according to the SMPD statement.
“Cases are intensely supervised and monitored by the hearing officer for one year,” according to the statement. “If the minor re-offends or fails to adhere to the … contract, the original case is referred for prosecution.”
District Attorney Steve Cooley, in a statement found in a brochure for the program, said the Juvenile Offender Intervention Network was created to catch kids who are first-time offenders and may fall through the cracks of the justice system and be more inclined to offend again.
“In a non-courtroom setting, [the network] ensures that offenders are promptly held accountable for their crimes and are appropriate consequences are imposed … .”
The program has an 80 percent success rate, and 70 to 75 percent of those who make it through have no new arrests one year after completion, said Kellyjean Chun, who oversees it.
“I believe it does work,” she said.
Officials with the District Attorney’s Office would not comment on the Samohi case.
The victim’s mother, Victoria Gray, said the two juveniles involved could have faced misdemeanor charges of battery and false imprisonment.
Sources familiar with the investigation said prosecutors were not considering a hate crime charge.
In an interview Thursday with the Daily Press, Gray said she was pleased with the DA’s decision. She said she just wanted those responsible for hurting her son to be held accountable. She did not want the students to do jail time.
“It might have been a bad joke, but it was a very bad joke,” Gray said of the incident. “People in Santa Monica think I was after them. I wasn’t after them. I just wanted to make sure [the teens] were disciplined.”
Gray’s son 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.
During the investigation, police received reports that staff at the high school disposed of cell phone photos taken by students of the alleged crime. Other sources said the administrators kept the images on a separate device and then asked students to delete them.
Last month school district officials were cleared of any wrongdoing by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau, which was called in by SMPD Chief Tim Jackman out of concern that there may be a conflict. The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and City Hall have a close relationship, with City Hall contributing millions toward public school funding.
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 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 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.
District Superintendent Sandra Lyon said the school board will receive an update on the district’s efforts in February. In the meantime, staff continues to look at various programs to promote racial harmony and see how they can be incorporated into what is already offered at school sites.
Also, the newly-created Intercultural Advisory Committee is set to begin its work in the spring, monitoring the district’s response.
“We take this seriously and we are committed to improving racial tolerance for all students on campus,” she said.