2 city schools' teens in a brawl

11 arrested in fight in Cherry Hill after bomb threat

December 14, 2007|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun reporter

Eleven high school students were arrested yesterday after a brawl erupted on a sodden football field between students from two schools in South Baltimore's Cherry Hill neighborhood that have a history of enmity.

Dozens of police officers from throughout the city, some armed with Tasers and mace, were summoned to the campus shared by the New Era Academy and the Southside Academy after a bomb threat emptied both schools shortly before 11:30 a.m., according to Marshall Goodwin, the city school system's police chief.

After the fighting prompted officers to order students back into their school buildings, more altercations broke out between students in hallways and stairwells, Goodwin told reporters. In the melee, he said, students assaulted officers, although some students said the opposite occurred.

"My son's got a big knot on the side of his head, and my daughters both got maced," said Donita Hickman, referring to her son Perez, 16, and daughters Antonette, 15, and Natalie, 17. The younger girl, Hickman said, went into a bathroom to wash out her eyes after being maced, and when she emerged was maced again.

"It's too much," said Hickman, who had rushed to the campus with her husband to pick up their children. The police are "just too aggressive," she said.

One of the arrested students was injured on the leg by a Taser, said Vanessa Pyatt, a spokeswoman for the city school system. He was taken by police to nearby Harbor Hospital, but his condition was not provided because of privacy laws. School police do not carry Tasers, although city officers do. Both agencies responded to the fracas, as did the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

Nine of the arrested students were released without charges. The remaining two were charged with disorderly conduct and disturbing school operations, Pyatt said. One was also charged with resisting arrest, she said.

Goodwin, the schools police chief, said officers responded with "appropriate force," but he would not address complaints by students and parents that nightstick-wielding officers had overreacted.

Several students said one boy had a seizure, and that another one suffered a head wound, but Goodwin said he did not know about those injuries.

The two schools, which operate under the same roof in a large complex between Cherry Hill Road and Seamon Avenue, have vastly different cultures, which leads to tension between their students. New Era Academy is one of Baltimore's six "innovation" high schools, which have no admissions requirements and yet often attract students that perform better than those at neighborhood high schools such as Southside. Administrators at innovation schools have autonomy over staffing and curriculum, while those at neighborhood high schools do not.

New Era operates in partnership with the school management company Replications Inc., and its focus is on college preparation and cultural enrichment. Instead of ringing a bell at the end of class periods, the school plays classical music.

While both high schools are open to students from around the city, New Era draws from a broader geographic region, and Southside is Cherry Hill's neighborhood school. Southside students tend to view their peers at New Era as nerds, and New Era students say they feel the need to protect themselves.

After calm returned yesterday, some New Era students recounted that police had run through hallways swinging nightsticks at students.

"They started beating on us for no reason," said Akeem Smith, 17, who displayed a bump on the back of his head that was caused, he said, by a nightstick. "They didn't even try to make peace."

The boy's comments were echoed by students from both schools but could not be corroborated by police. Nor was it clear whether students who accused police of excessive force had been involved in violence themselves.

Smith said the bomb scare was "a set-up," a false alarm triggered by agitators at Southside and designed to get New Era students on the football field so that they could "jump us." He and other students said a similar bomb threat had emptied the schools early last month, but without the same consequences.

Tyshawn Hill, a 16-year-old New Era student, said a police officer had hit him with a nightstick, called him a "bitch" and "pushed my head into the cabinet."

Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department, said there would be an internal review of the Taser incident, as there always is when such uses of force occur. He said yesterday evening that no complaints about excessive force had been lodged with the department about yesterday's incident.

Clifford said the department's Southern District will work to ensure that the discord that prompted yesterday's events does not "spill into the community at large."

nick.madigan@baltimoresun.com

Sun reporter Sara Neufeld contributed to this article.

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