Police Quell School Brawl
CORONA: Fighting erupts at Centennial High. Officials doubt race was an issue; teens disagree.
Michael Fisher, Paige Austin, and Linda Lou, The Press-Enterprise (CA), Mar. 26
CORONA — Twelve students were taken into custody and five students were hurt Friday during a lunchtime brawl at Centennial High School, Corona police said.
Several students and the parent of two teens involved in the fight blamed it on simmering racial tensions on campus. If true, the melee would be the latest in a series of racially motivated fights to erupt at schools from Norco to Bloomington, Hemet and Murrieta in recent months.
Police and school-district officials said they were unsure what started the melee. But Centennial Principal Sam Buenrostro said it did not appear that race had played a role.
Eight of the detained students were released within hours without any citation. Of the other four, two were cited on suspicion of committing battery on school grounds and one was cited on suspicion of making terrorist threats and assaulting a school official. They were released to their parents, police said.
A fourth student was arrested on suspicion of committing battery on school grounds. He was taken to Riverside County Juvenile Hall, Corona police spokesman Jerry Rodriguez said.
After the fight, administrators locked down the 2,800-student campus for two hours as about 50 anxious parents waited outside.
“It was a race riot,” said Gina Howard, whose two sons were involved in the fight. She said her son Jayme, 14, was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a school officer. Her 16-year-old son, Dwayne, was taken to the hospital for stitches after being hit in the head with what appeared to be a pipe, she said.
Jayme got into trouble when he struggled to free himself from the principal’s hold to help his brother, who was being beaten about the head, she said.
Buenrostro said, “When you have students who are different colors fighting, it’s easy to call it a racial fight.”
Rodriguez said 23 officers were sent to quell the fight. He called it “a borderline riot.”
“There were several fights going on at the same time,” he said. “We sent everyone we had available down there.”
But Steve Ellis, Corona-Norco school district’s security supervisor, said the fight involved just a handful of students.
“Under no circumstances would I describe it as a riot,” Ellis said.
In addition to Dwayne Howard’s injury, Rodriguez said a female student was taken to Corona Regional Medical Center with head injuries suffered in the fight. Hospital officials said she was treated and released to officers. Police said three students were treated on campus for minor injuries.
Buenrostro said that during the midmorning snack period, a confrontation occurred between a black student and a Latino student after they bumped into each other.
During the campus’s second lunch period, those two students encountered each other and may have started provoking each other, Buenrostro said. Then one friend from each side jumped in to try to break up the fight, and school security guards got involved. Two of the students became agitated and resisted being taken to the front office, the principal said.
At the same time, another fight erupted between a girl and her boyfriend, Buenrostro said.
No weapons were involved in the fights, although one student did grab a crutch, Buenrostro said. He said he went to grab the boy but was not assaulted or hit with the crutch.
Buenrostro said no racially motivated fights have occurred on campus this school year, but some students and parents disagreed.
Joseph Peña, a senior at the school and editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, described the scene Friday as “pure chaos.”
Peña said he believed racial conflict sparked the brawl.
“You hear too many racial slurs,” he said. “This is something that I believe has been brewing for some time, and I don’t know if this is the last of it or the start.”
Howard said her sons, who are of Hispanic and African-American descent, have been complaining about recent conflicts between a number of black and Latino students.
Howard said that when she heard of the incidents, she called the school, but officials assured her that any problems had to do with crowding, not racism.
“My child was hurt. This needs to stop,” Howard said. “I want the parents to talk to their kids so we can end this racial tension because the school is ignoring it.”
Sophomore Jasmine Spivey, who is black, said she has not had any problems with other students but has seen several fights.
“There are always fights between blacks and Mexicans,” she said. “I doubt it’s ever going to stop.”
Lue Baker said she got a frantic call at noon from her freshman daughter, who is black, saying there was a big fight at school.
“She said, ‘Come pick me up now,’ “ said Baker, explaining that she nearly removed her daughter from the school last semester because of what she said were racial problems at Centennial.
Baker said school and police officials assured her that the campus was safe and talked her out of it.
“She’s going to a private school,” Baker said Friday as she waited for her daughter outside the school’s gate.
Other parents said their children have not complained about racial conflict on campus.
“They feel safe here — definitely,” said Fred Capinpin, whose two daughters attend Centennial. “I’ve never been concerned.”
Some students reported being frightened as officers toting shotguns loaded with nonlethal beanbags swarmed the campus.
“I’m going to have a nightmare tonight,” said senior Janice Moreno, 17.
Police spokesman Rodriguez said it is typical for officers to fire nonlethal beanbag rounds in riot situations because police do not know the nature of the event when they first arrive, or whether weapons are involved.
“But knowing there are a number of students fighting, it’s necessary to get control as soon as possible for the safety of the students and to keep the situation from escalating,” he said.
Staff writer Melanie Johnson contributed to this report.