charged in taped assault
Group beat special education student at bus stop,
by Tony Plohetski, The American-Statesman, January
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With their video camera rolling, five teenagers beat, kicked
and laughed at a special education
student as he waited at a bus stop,
police said. Then, they said, the attackers "laughed
hysterically" as they sped away. The
planning and carrying out of the Dec. 19 assault -- all
captured on a 30-minute videotape -- led to the
arrest of five Anderson High School students this week.
With bail set at $15,000 each, they remained in jail
late Wednesday on charges of assault and engaging in
organized criminal activity. "This is horrific," said Susan
Eason, executive director of Arc of the Capital Area, which
provides services to people with
disabilities. "It just
makes me sick to my stomach."
Police said the attackers, two of
whom are juveniles, taped themselves searching the school's
campus for a victim and later going
to a nearby Capital Metro bus stop, where they found the
16-year-old student. Austin police
said the five taunted the student for several minutes while
encouraging one another to begin the
attack. Police said the teens then began kicking and punching
the student on his head and upper body. The
besieged student, who was treated for head injuries and
pain, returned to school this week. Police had
acquired the tape in late December after one of the
assailants was identified by a school police officer.
Authorities said they had to
wait until school was back in
session after the winter holidays to complete
Police charged the three adults,
Marques Berry, Perminder Klair and
Donavan Chapman, all 18, on Monday.
They face up to two years in prison if convicted. Two
other students, Kevin Zamaripa and Berry's brother Chris,
remained in a
Travis County juvenile detention facility on similar
charges. Austin police and advocates
for people with mental retardation on
Wednesday condemned the
assault and called for justice.
"We consider these bullies to be
criminals and expect for them to be prosecuted to the fullest
extent of the law," police spokesman
said. "It is up to the school and judicial systems to
make them accountable
for their actions."
Austin Police Detective Scott
Stanfield said the investigation showed that as many as eight
other students knew about the
group's plans, watched the attack and did nothing to prevent
it. Of those, at least three face
disciplinary action, school district officials said. Public
records show that the Berrys, Klair and Chapman are
neighbors on Cedar Branch Drive in Northwest Austin.
Chapman's parents said late Wednesday that their
son is an exemplary student who was about to begin
interviews for college scholarships. "He's just like any
other kid," David Chapman said. "He's a good kid, and
the truth will come out soon." Klair's parents said
they did not know enough about the allegations to
comment. Parents of the other accused youths could not be
reached. Two of the youths withdrew from Anderson High on Jan.
7. One was already assigned to
alternative school, while two others remained in regular
classes until their arrest.
School officials would not identify
which students were
Stanfield said the plot began shortly after school was
dismissed Dec. 19, the last day of classes
before the holidays. He said the Berrys were being
transferred to alternative school beginning this month,
and they said on the tape that they wanted to retaliate
before the semester ended. Stanfield said he did not
know why the youths were
being moved; school officials would
The Berrys drew three other
students into their plan, Stanfield said, and they all began
scouring common areas of the campus
for someone to beat up. The group observed at least four
possible targets, he said, but those students either moved to
more populated areas or got in their cars or on a bus. "They
were looking for the weakest person
to assault," Stanfield said. "That
was their objective." He said
the group then went to the Capital
Metro bus stop at the corner of Steck Avenue and Mesa Drive,
about 50 feet from campus, where
they found the
16-year-old special education student.
"They basically circled him for
several minutes, taunting him and laughing at him," Stanfield
said. "I think he knew something was
going to happen. They were making it known." During the
attack, Stanfield said, the student
was brought to the ground as
the group used their feet and fists to pummel his head
and upper body.
When the attack was over, the
student went to a nearby gas station and called 911.
Paramedics treated him at the scene
for head injuries. Stanfield said a clerk at the service
station watched the attack and saw
the group videotaping it. The clerk
told authorities that at least one of the students had been in
the store and that a video
surveillance camera had likely recorded him. A campus police
officer confirmed Klair's identity
from the store's surveillance tape.
Austin police officers went to Klair's house, where they were
given a videotape and learned about
the other assailants. "It is very
clear that everyone involved is part of a plan to
do this," Stanfield said.
"And it is clear that those witnesses standing around had
knowledge, and no one stepped
in and did anything."
The arrests alarmed the parents of several special
education students at Anderson.
Joyce Campbell, who co-chairs the district's Special
Education Citizens Advisory
Committee, said her group meets
today and will probably discuss how
special education students can be better protected.
"They can't defend
themselves," she said. "Safety for the kids is one of
our huge issues on the bus,
school's principal, David Kernwein, said the assault
was isolated and unfortunate. "When there is an incident
like this, the consequences have to take
place," he said. "As
principal, I won't tolerate these kinds of circumstances."
Wendie Abramson, director of disability services at SafePlace,
which provides shelter and
counseling for abuse victims, said studies have shown that
people with disabilities are two to 10 times more
likely to become victims of crime. She said many
suspects think they can more easily get away with their
crimes if they take on people
with disabilities, who are easier targets. "And some youths
are just mean," she said. Abramson
and others in her profession said all schools should enforce
strict policies prohibiting
students from bullying or teasing those in special
education classes. Also, she said, students with disabilities
should be taught skills for responding to such taunts.
Mary Sondgeroth, the school
district's interim director of
guidance and counseling, said the
district became aggressive a couple
of years ago in teaching
anti-bullying classes. Students are
taught tolerance of others'
differences, what to do if they
become victim of a bully, and how to respond if they see such
she said, "I don't think you could ever do too much on