Elk Grove Student Subjected to Hate Threats, Speech Claims His Arrest For Defending Himself Was Racially Motivated


Strong Park in Elk Grove was the site where a Pleasant Grove High School students says he was defending himself
from a hate and racially motivated encounter. | 

October 18, 2017 | 

A student from the Elk Grove Unified School District that is facing assault charges, along with his parents, believes he is being unfairly prosecuted based on his race and for defending himself from a hate-motivated combatant.

The juvenile, a 16-old who is in his junior year at Pleasant Grove High School, is facing the charges after being involved in a mid-December, 2016 fight at Strong Park in Elk Grove. The student, who will be referred to Robert because of his age, continues his studies at PGHS.

According to Robert, who is African American and a member of the school's football and basketball teams, he and two friends were playing basketball at the park when they were approached by a group of teenagers. At the time Robert was attired in a suit and tie with dress shoes as part of the basketball team's game-day dress code.

Robert, 15 at the time, and his two companions, which he noted are white, was approached by two white teenage white girls and two white teenage boys, all of whom immediately started taunting him. When one of Robert's school companions told him that one of the male teenagers had stolen his shorts, Robert said he asked him why they took the shorts and was immediately surrounded.

"A group of kids out of nowhere came up and surrounded me," Robert said. "They started pushing me around and stuff."

It was at this point that the verbal confrontation escalated. Robert said the other teenagers repeatedly used the N and F words threateningly and told him they wanted to fight. Robert said this went on for several minutes until a turning point in the confrontation happened.

"It could have ended right there," Robert noted.

That occurred when the other party removed his belt from his pants and wrapped it around his knuckles as if to prepare to start punching. Robert said they started yelling "'I'm going to kill you, I'm going to kill your family.' I was kind of shaken" and felt his safety was under threat, and the physical confrontation ensued.

"I was defending myself," he said.

Aside from his friend's assertion that the other party involved in the fight stole his property, Robert did not know his name or any of the others in the group and only that he was believed to be a senior at PGHS at the time of the altercation. In a legal document supplied by Robert’s family, the other party was only identified by his first name and the first letter of his last name.

After the fight ended, which he acknowledged he engaged in, Robert left the park to go to PGHS for his basketball game. According to Robert, sometime after his departure from the park Elk Grove Police officers came to the park asking his companions if they knew where Robert was and they said he had gone to the school.

A few days after that, on December 16, police officers went to PGHS, had Robert removed from class, and initiated questioning. While in custody Robert, who recalls having his Miranda rights read to him but did not have an attorney present, was interrogated by police on the PGHS campus.

Robert said the presence of the five officers, all of whom were white and thought to be from the Elk Grove Police Department, frightened him. "They (the police officers) said if I don't talk, they can take me straight to juvie," he said.

Fearing being placed in juvenile hall, Robert agreed to be questioned.

Even though Robert explained to officers during the interrogation that members of the other party threatened him, threatened his family, one of whom is disabled, expressed their desire to start a fight, and using racial epithets, and that in response he defended himself. Roberts said he felt the officers had minimized his assertions based on his race, and upon reflection, the two interrogation officers purposely misled him to answer questions unfavorably.

After the on-campus interrogation, Robert was arrested, handcuffed and taken to the police station where he was fingerprinted and booked. Robert's parents were notified and he was released to the custody of his mother at the police station.

Robert's mother, who asked not to be identified, said the school did not inform her or Robert’s father of the detention and questioning of their son until he was arrested, handcuffed and removed from campus. Furthermore, Robert’s mother said PGHS administrators later told her they were not allowed to contact her about the on-campus proceedings as they were occurring.

Additionally, Robert’s mother said she learned during recent proceedings the other combatant's reported injuries were to a black eye, bruises, and abrasions.

EGUSD’s public information officer, Xanthi Pinkerton, did not reply to an email request seeking comment on district procedures for on-campus interrogation of students by law enforcement.

After being released to his parents, Robert returned to school the same day. It was not until last month that Robert and his parents learned he would face criminal charges.

Law enforcement agencies typically do not respond to requests to comment on cases and are barred from providing information on juveniles. Elk Grove Police Chief Bryan Noblett was emailed seeking comment on the procedures for handling questioning of minors and the assertion that the interrogation officers were racially biased against Robert.

Through the EGPD's public information officer, no comment was offered other than a referral to the department’s policy manual. Policy 324, which covers temporary custody of juveniles, can be viewed here.

In recent months the EGPD and the City of Elk Grove have been widely criticized by residents and civil rights groups like the Sacramento branch of the NAACP for the lack of racial employee diversity, particularly in the police department and the ranks of executive city staff. In response, the city has initiated steps to audit and change hiring procedures in the hope of diversifying a mostly white workforce, particularly within the ranks of the police department.

Speaking on behalf of his son Robert, Mr. Ray Johnson said he has been frustrated by several aspects of the police's handling of the case, one of which is that he has been unable to obtain a copy of the police report. Additionally, Mr. Johnson noted that the other teenager initially threatened his son with harm to him and his family and that he threateningly displayed the belt, but that does not seem to have been taken into consideration.

"It was four kids who circled Robert, pushing him, calling him n***** this, n***** that." Mr. Johnson said. "Then the guy finally decided to take off his belt, wrap it around his fist.”

Mr. Johnson also claimed the father of the person Robert fought made phone calls to their residence, without giving his name he identified himself as the father and threatened their disabled 12-year old son. In his frustration, Mr. Johnson said he does not know the name of the man making the threatening calls or how he was able to get their home phone number.

Robert believes from the start Elk Grove Police were predisposed against him because of his race and favorably for the combatants based on their race. Additionally, he said he feels as though there is racial hostility towards African-Americans at PGHS and in the City of Elk Grove.

"I feel like I am being targeted because they are not looking at it from my point of view, he said. "They are looking at it from his point of view."

Robert’s mother said she feels there is endemic racism at both the school district and in the city.

"He should be able to go to the park, to play basketball," she said. "I don't think that he should be harassed and be called names."

She added she thinks the matter could have been settled without the criminal proceedings that Robert is being subjected too.

"They are trying to make my son look like a criminal," she said, noting he is good student earning A’s and B’s. "I know my son, and he is not a criminal."

Mr. Johnson added, "I'm sure if it were flipped around, it would be four Black kids going to court now."

The ultimate indignation though, Mr. Johnson said, was that police did not seem to take his son’s account of the threats against him and his family’s well-being seriously and instead seemed to disregard the other combatant’s reported racially-motivated behavior.

"That, to me, is a hate crime," he added.







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2 comments

D.J. Blutarsky said...

Don't worry, things will get better once we get Amazon, Costco, the mall, and casino built! Throw in a few town hall meetings and presto-Elk Grove is back in business!

T Fong said...

WOW,

Elk Grove is endemic racism at both it's school district and in the city.

"EGPD and the City of Elk Grove have been widely criticized by residents and civil rights groups like the Sacramento branch of the NAACP for the lack of racial employee diversity, particularly in the police department and the ranks of executive city staff"

Hopefully Elk Grove News will publish a follow up on this story, I can't wait to see some proof supporting these allegations, or not.

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