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Two teens face allegations in Gaiser Middle School disturbance

School district officials continuing to investigate Friday incident

By , Columbian Breaking News Reporter, and
, Columbian Education Reporter
Published: March 18, 2019, 9:00pm

Two teenagers appeared Monday in Clark County Juvenile Court to face allegations stemming from their refusal to leave Gaiser Middle School on Friday night at the direction of law enforcement officers.

A 13-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of failure to disperse, third-degree assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. A probable cause affidavit alleges the boy pushed and punched a school security officer.

He was not in custody when he appeared in court. Commissioner Carin Schienberg allowed the boy to remain in the care of his parents before his April 1 arraignment hearing, court records state.

The second defendant who appeared on allegations tied to the incident at the middle school is a 14-year-old girl. Two separate probable cause affidavits assert there is enough evidence to charge her with fourth-degree assault and failure to disperse, or third-degree assault and criminal mischief. An affidavit says she spat in an officer’s face and used racial slurs.

Her arraignment was scheduled for Wednesday. She was ordered jailed because her parent was either unwilling or unable to take her home, court records state.

“School administrators are reviewing video of the incident and will respond with appropriate disciplinary actions,” Superintendent Steve Webb said in a written statement Monday. “The behavior displayed on Friday night will not be tolerated, and every student involved will be held accountable.”

Disturbance call

Clark County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched about 5:40 p.m. Friday to a report of a disturbance at Gaiser Middle School, 3000 N.E. 99th St., in Hazel Dell, according to a statement from the sheriff’s office.

The statement said a 911 caller reported that a fight had broken out among students who had been attending an all-district eighth-grade end-of-season basketball tournament. A group of teenagers, reportedly 60 to 70 or more, were reportedly trying to interfere with and assaulting school officials dealing with the situation.

The sheriff’s office described the incident as a riot, and on Monday said the incident falls under the legal definition of riot, also known as “criminal mischief,” in state law.

“A person is guilty of the crime of criminal mischief if, acting with three or more other persons, he or she knowingly and unlawfully uses or threatens to use force, or in any way participates in the use of such force, against any other person or against property,” the law says.

“It fits the definition of riot and was a very dangerous situation for all involved,” sheriff’s Sgt. Brent Waddell said.

Nine arrested

Nine juveniles were arrested, according to the sheriff’s office. District spokeswoman Pat Nuzzo said seven were from Vancouver Public Schools campuses, one was an “inactive” student not connected to any VPS schools, and the ninth was from an Evergreen Public Schools campus. Of the Vancouver students, five were eighth-graders and two were ninth-graders, she said.

The two teens who appeared in court face felony allegations. The others who were arrested face misdemeanor allegations, which are being evaluated by a Clark County prosecutor, Waddell said.

Nuzzo said in a statement sent to parents Monday that principals and administrators are still investigating what happened at the tournament. About 200 students and parents were attending the event, she said.

“The disturbance began when a student was asked to leave the school gym because he confronted another student” in the stands, Nuzzo said. “Other students then became involved in the conflict. They disrupted the tournament and refused to follow the direction of district staff and law enforcement personnel.”

She did note, however, that the district is intentionally steering clear of calling the incident a “riot,” noting that the primary issues were those students who refused to leave campus, or who yelled at or threatened law enforcement and district staff.

The tournament was canceled and additional law enforcement officers were called to help. The sheriff’s office previously said there were 33 police units on scene at one point.

‘Pack mentality’

According to the affidavit in the 13-year-old’s case, deputies at the middle school called for backup and requested a “Code 3” response as an emergency worthy of the use of sirens and police lights, to assist officers in need of help. A deputy arrived and saw about 40 youths surrounding other deputies, according to the affidavit.

The 13-year-old challenged deputies and the school security guard who was assaulted, according to the affidavit. The teen and a group of about 20 juveniles continued to challenge deputies and refused to leave the school property.

Deputies tried to detain the boy, but he ran away and was tackled and handcuffed, according to the affidavit.

The boy’s mother, Jamie Vaillencourt, said outside the courtroom that her son fell victim to “pack mentality.”

“They were trying to show off in front of each other,” Vaillencourt said. “People can point fingers and blame parents, but they’re not all bad kids. Some are more responsible than others.”

She said she hopes her son learns from the experience, given that it could have ended much worse for him. But she said the charges against her son are “a little excessive.” The teenagers were trying to stand their ground when they shouldn’t have, she said.

Caught on video

Tia Lee, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at the school, also offered a description of the chaotic scene that largely corroborates the timeline given by the district and law enforcement. Tia said she saw a friend confront someone from a neighboring school over crass comments that student had made. The two got into an argument, Tia said, and school security pulled her friend from the confrontation.

“He was grabbed and pushed away,” Tia said.

It was then that Tia began to film a series of videos, including one of a group of adults appearing to surround a student and pin him against the wall.

Tia also noted — and video suggests — that most of the students police contacted were students of color. Court documents show that both of the students who appeared in juvenile court Monday are black.

Nuzzo wouldn’t comment specifically on allegations that race was a factor in the incident.

Vancouver Public Schools has a higher discipline rate than any district in Clark County, according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

In 2017, 5.4 percent of the district’s 26,553 students were expelled or suspended, compared to the state average of 3.5 percent.

That same year, black students were disciplined at a disproportionately higher rate than their white peers. There were 755 black students in the district that year, 79 or 10.5 percent of whom were suspended or arrested. Of the district’s 15,250 white students, 703 or 4.6 percent were suspended or expelled.

A growing body of research suggests these disparities can be the result of discriminatory practices in schools, whether intended or not, rather than the actual behavior of students.

Emergency expulsions

Nuzzo said 27 students, including all those who were arrested, received emergency expulsions. Most of them were expelled for “inciting” the fight, including yelling, using racial slurs and refusing to leave. Those students are banned from school campuses for up to 10 days while the district investigates.

“Privacy laws prevent us from sharing more specific details about those students. However, we will hold all the involved students accountable for their behavior, and we will respond with appropriate disciplinary actions,” she said.

Tia was among those placed under emergency expulsion, which came as a surprise to her and her father, Myke Jones. Tia said she responded to police instructions to stand back from the scene, and her videos show her standing across the street from or otherwise away from police.

“We were told to go to a certain area, get out of one area, go to another,” Tia recalled.

Jones first noted his daughter’s story in a Facebook post that was shared dozens of times. Jones hopes the incident serves as a learning opportunity for all involved — students and adults.

“Nobody was right in this situation,” Jones said. “Everybody acted inappropriately. I hope it’s a learning opportunity for everyone.”

The district is dispatching extra school resource officers to schools as a result of the incident. Nuzzo added that the district will review the incident and the district’s response to it to determine whether there’s any way to prevent it in the future.

“Providing safe and supportive schools is our top priority,” Webb said in the written statement. “We continue to work hard every day to maintain a respectful and nurturing environment, and we ask parents to be partners in this ongoing effort.”

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