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 Article of Interest - Bullying

5 teens charged in taped assault
Group beat special education student at bus stop, police say
by Tony Plohetski, The American-Statesman, January 16, 2003
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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 their investigation.


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 Kevin Buchman 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 still enrolled.


The attack 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 not comment.


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."


Advocates concerned 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, everywhere." The 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 taunting. Still, she said, "I don't think you could ever do too much on that topic."


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