Officials react to student arrest

Level of force officer used at school stirs concern

`We take this matter ... seriously'

Teen-ager who refused to leave seat handcuffed


December 17, 2003|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Howard school officials expressed concern yesterday about the level of force used against a Glenelg High student who said he was thrown to the ground, handcuffed and arrested by a school-based police officer in front of his classmates after refusing to switch seats last week in biology class.

"We take this matter very seriously," said Michael Martirano, director of kindergarten through 12th grade for half of the county's schools. Martirano met with the boy's family members yesterday along with their attorney and representatives from the Council on Islamic-American Relations.

Sophomore Marvin Ebrahimzadeh, 15, "was badly bruised on the forehead and body and wrists" during the arrest, said Rizwab Mowlana, the council's executive director. "He was treated like a criminal, and this is a puny little kid."

School system spokeswoman Patti Caplan said the Ebrahimzadeh youth was "insubordinate" and "defiant," refusing not only to move from his seat, but also to accompany an assistant principal to the office. It was at that point that the school's resource officer Kelly Smith was called in, Caplan said.

"It escalated from there," she said.

Howard County police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said an internal review has shown no wrongdoing by Smith, who is still stationed at the school.

"He acted appropriately," she said, adding that neither the Ebrahimzadehs nor their representatives have filed a complaint about the officer, nor have they returned calls from police Chief Wayne Livesay.

Still, Marvin Ebrahimzadeh said, he doesn't "feel safe around the police officer." He hasn't been in school since the Dec. 10 arrest, and his attorney, Hassan Ahmad, said he is unlikely to return while Smith is there.

"He was subjected to a great deal of mental and physical abuse," said Ahmad, who is trying to reach a resolution with school representatives that will return the youth to school, which he said could include a request for the officer's dismissal and diversity training for school staff.

Ahmad said he is examining whether the incident happened because of anti-Muslim sentiment toward the youth, who is Middle Eastern and Muslim.

Martirano and school system equality specialist Eileen Woodbury said they have not seen evidence of prejudice but that they understand why the perception might exist in today's climate.

"We certainly want the student to come back and feel safe," Woodbury said. "We also want to address the loss of trust. We feel there has been a loss of trust between the family and the school."

Other students at the school say they fear they could face the same treatment Ebrahimzadeh received.

"I'm afraid every little thing that a person does, they're going to be arrested," said Lisa Houchens, 17, a senior.

Houchens and dozens of others wore patches and homemade signs pinned to their clothes in support of their classmate, many with his initials "M.E." and the arrest date carefully printed on them.

Sophomore Jen Atkins said she was suspended for two days for wearing hers Friday, but that the punishment was overturned after her mother complained.

"It's kind of ridiculous," said sophomore Adrianne Witkowski, 15.

Llewellyn said officers were put in county high schools in 1999 to build community relations and keep students and administrators safe, from one another if need be.

"They are there to work in partnership with the school administration to prevent criminal activity and to address it when it does occur," she said.

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