Spokane police are investigating accusations of harassment and threats to a student and staff members at Lewis and Clark High School by a group of students on Thursday.
Ten police officers were called to the school after dozens – perhaps hundreds – of students rushed to what they thought might be a fight involving girls in the downtown school’s main hallway. After the officers helped quell and disperse the crowd, school administrators used emergency expulsions to remove several students, according to a letter sent to staff by LC Principal Ivan Corley.
Police on Friday said they have developed probable cause to recommend two students be charged with two gross misdemeanors: criminal mischief-riot, and harassment-threatening to harm, said police spokeswoman Julie Humphreys.
Police were continuing their investigation Friday. Spokane Public Schools had not notified LC parents regarding the situation as of early Friday evening. The district did issue a public statement following media inquiries.
The incident began at 11 a.m. when a group of students were harassing and pursuing another student in the ground floor hallway, according to a letter Corley sent to staff.
Corley said that staff attempted to stop the incident, but students continued to pursue the girl “and make threatening, mean, and harmful comments.”
“The student was trying to walk away, but the group of students continued to follow her,” Corley said. “This incident began on the ground floor hallway by the library and then moved to the first floor by the student and main office area.”
Blake Juarez, a junior at the school, shared a similar account of events.
He said five or six people were following the student.
“It looked like they were going to have a fight,” Juarez said.
He said the incident moved upstairs, and eventually hundreds of students were behind her yelling and taking video on their cellphones before she entered the office. Many people followed her.
Juarez said he was amazed and worried.
“Someone could get really hurt,” he said of his thoughts at the time.
Police aren’t sure how the incident evolved into the larger confrontation with staff, Humphreys said.
According to the police department, several staff members called 911. However, one unidentified caller said the situation had de-escalated and that police presence was not needed, Humphreys said.
A few moments later, a campus security officer called and said law enforcement was necessary.
When police officers arrived, they found a large group of students gathered around the student office.
Humphreys couldn’t give an exact number of how many students were involved once police arrived, but said it was at least 75.
At roughly the same time, a police scanner picked up a message from an unidentified caller stating that “students are trying to storm the office” and “threatening staff.”
“That’s why we were there,” Humphreys said. “Eventually it settled down so we could talk to people.”
However, in a statement issued late Friday afternoon, the district noted that “there was no physical violence, weapons, or disruption to classrooms. Unfortunately, students gather to observe potential altercations, which is something school staff work to de-escalate as quickly as possible.”
The statement continued: “Accounts of the incident vary, as some students are stating it was vastly exaggerated and others indicating concern.”
The statement also attempted to address why the district and school opted not to send a letter to all families of LC students.
“Building administrators evaluate each situation based on factors such as the number of students involved and level of risk to determine when to communicate with individual families versus communication to the entire student body,” the statement said.
The incident comes during a period of strained relationships between the district and the police department. In March, Police Chief Craig Meidl accused the district of failing to report student violence. Shortly after, the FBI started looking into Meidl’s claims.
Students on Friday said fights are fairly common at the school, but an event involving such a large number of students is unusual.
Freshman students Mia Mannan and Lukas Ryder, said there should be more campus security or police officers at the school to manage fights and large-scale incidents like the one on Thursday.
“(I feel) fairly safe, but I could see how some people don’t ’cause of the people they hang out with,” Ryder said.
Charlie Walden, another freshman, said current campus security personnel is sufficient.
“I don’t know if there was anything else they could have done,” Walden said.
In 2020, Spokane Public Schools removed school resource officers with the policing powers to arrest students in a shift toward “restorative” discipline. Schools replaced the resource officers with intervention specialists.
Restorative discipline is an alternative to suspension or other traditional forms of punishment that instead allows students space and time to calm down before discussing why they acted out, giving the student a chance to repair the relationships they damaged.
The school district claims that it maintains a strong working relationship with Spokane police, while the police department has said schools can only be safe with law enforcement involvement.
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