School safety questioned

After Annapolis mall shooting, educators to meet to discuss possibility of tighter security measures

November 20, 2006|By Tom Pelton and Arin Gencer | Tom Pelton and Arin Gencer,Sun Reporters

Anne Arundel County school officials plan to meet today to discuss increased security at Annapolis High School after a series of fights and the shooting of a student at Westfield Annapolis mall Saturday.

Police said yesterday that it's unclear whether the shooting of Tahzay Brown, a 16-year-old junior, was related to the arrest Friday of seven students for a string of brawls that apparently sprang out of a neighborhood conflict.

Investigators hope to question an 18-year-old man from Annapolis who they believe fired a gun at the mall Saturday evening during a melee that sparked panic and resulted in the wounding of three people in the food court.

The suspect was shot in the incident by an off-duty Secret Service agent who was hit by a bullet as he tried to break up the fight.

"This is just absolutely horrifying. The Annapolis mall food court is absolutely no place for this kind of violence," County Executive Janet S. Owens said yesterday. "Finding out what is going on is absolutely paramount to the police and to me."

The mall opened yesterday with overflow crowds busily shopping for the holidays. Additional officers were patrolling the mall, county police said.

The Secret Service agent, strolling through the mall with his family Saturday, tried to stop a youth from being attacked by at least six others, and was shot in the leg, police said.

In response, the agent fired seven times, hitting the 18-year-old gunman twice in the upper body, police said. Brown was wounded in the leg, but it's not clear by whom, authorities said.

Both the agent and the suspected shooter - whom authorities declined to identify - were being treated yesterday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. Brown was treated and released from Anne Arundel Medical Center.

Bob Mosier, spokesman for the county school system, said students at Annapolis High School might face increased security when they return from Thanksgiving break Nov. 27.

"There will be additional presence of administrators or police or both," Mosier said. "The superintendent has been very clear we will not tolerate community problems overflowing into the schools. We will do whatever we have to do to make sure classes go normally."

Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell, Annapolis High School Principal Donald Lilley, and the county's director of high schools, George Arlotto, plan to meet today to discuss what they should do about the string of fights at the school, Mosier said.

A team of counselors might be sent to the high school, so that any students or teachers who feel they need help can get it, he said.

Soon after school opened this fall, a series of fights broke out between youths in the Robinwood neighborhood and the Newtown 20 public housing complex in Annapolis, Mosier said.

In September, 18 students at the high school were arrested for their involvement in four brawls, most of which were without weapons, in the school's front lobby.

On Friday morning, at least two more clashes erupted, and then another fight broke out at lunchtime. Police arrested seven students, six boys and one girl, for disrupting school activities, said Officer Sara Schriver, spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County Police Department.

Schriver said during a news conference yesterday that police could not confirm whether the mall shooting Saturday was connected to fights and arrests at Annapolis High School the day before.

"This is all attributed to the neighborhood rivalry," Schriver said of the school fights. "These are young kids, and they're just trying to be tough. ... Teenagers are passionate people, and some people unfortunately deal with it in a violent way."

Authorities said yesterday there is no evidence that gangs were involved in the neighborhood fights. Tahzay Brown's mother, Tanjala Brown, told The Sun that her son, a football player, had been involved in one of the many fights that have broken out at school this year.

The Secret Service agent who tried to break up Saturday's fight at the mall appeared to have acted properly, Schriver said.

The agent announced that he was a police officer when he pulled out his handgun. "We are authorized to use deadly force when we believe that our lives are in imminent danger," Schriver said. Preliminary facts showed "he was justified," Schriver said.

"We are not just police officers during our tour of duty," Schriver added. "We are law enforcement officers 24 hours a day."

Special Agent Kim Bruce, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Secret Service, said that an investigation will be conducted. "That's standard procedure for any police agency any time a weapon is discharged," she said. Bruce declined to identify the agent, saying the Secret Service - charged with protecting the president - as a policy does not reveal the names of its employees.

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