Eric Hartley, Capital (Annapolis), June 17
Meade High School administrators botched their investigation of a racially motivated attack at the school in January, failing to protect the victim from a severe beating and hampering the prosecution of the lone student charged, a Circuit Court master said yesterday.
Master Erica J. Wolfe, a judicial officer who oversees juvenile and family cases, said she felt bad for the victim but had no choice in issuing an acquittal.
Before announcing the verdict, she criticized Meade Principal Joan A. Valentine and other school officials in a blistering speech, calling their documentation of the fight — including written statements from witnesses that didn’t have the witnesses’ names — “virtually useless.”
The 17-year-old Meade senior, who is white, was ambushed as he walked down a school hallway during a break in exams, prosecutors said. He was beaten badly, suffering 13 knots on his head.
A group of 10 to 15 African-American students surrounded the Meade High School senior, many jumping up and down and chanting, “White boy, white boy, I go!” before several started punching him, a prosecutor said.
The attack appeared to be random.
Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Bergeson said Principal Valentine refused to give him the names of those witnesses until she was ordered to on Tuesday by Master Wolfe.
Mr. Bergeson, a longtime juvenile court prosecutor, said he’d never before had a school official refuse to give him names of witnesses.
“The investigation conducted in this matter was appalling,” Master Wolfe said. “It is inconceivable to me that anybody who has the responsibility for pursuing this would accept a document that’s undated, unnamed, unsigned. The lack of common sense is utterly appalling.
“The school fails him in not protecting him from the fight in the first place and fails him again in not pursuing it properly,” she said. “That’s an indictment of the school.”
Ms. Valentine, Ms. Sims and the school system official who signed off on their investigation are all African American, prosecutors noted. Mr. Bergeson said the victim testified racially tinged fights aren’t unusual at Meade.
Asked whether he thought race played a role in the investigation, Mr. Bergeson said, “I have no idea.”
(Posted on June 28, 2005)