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[whitespace] Officials clear student suspensions

Police discuss dropping charges

Sunnyvale--Fremont High School officials have cleared the suspensions of more than 20 of the 26 students allegedly involved in a March 3 on-campus boxing match. Sunnyvale police on March 31 said plans are in the works to drop at least some of the charges against the students.

Sunnyvale Public Safety Captain Chuck Eaneff said police recommended a portion of the charges be dropped after conducting interviews with the boys and their parents. Investigators also reviewed students' prior police records, and assessed each students' level of involvement in the incident.

Eaneff refused to say how many charges against students would stand. He said he would not release the information because of the juvenile status of a some of the offenders. Releasing any further information could complicate police investigations, he said.

On March 3, FHS administrators spotted a group of students on a Fremont baseball field watching two male students box with gloves on. Three officers, already on campus, responded to the incident, Eaneff said. The students, Eaneff said, had asked for and been denied permission to hold such a match the day prior.

After breaking up the fight, Eaneff said the officers found the boys uncooperative and unwilling to identify the fighters. Eaneff said the students' unhelpful reaction forced officers to issue citations.

Officers responding the incident cited 24 students for disturbing the peace, and issued two citations for battery to the boys identified as the fighters. Eaneff confirmed that 21 of the students cited for involvement are minors. Initial reports had indicated that 27 students were involved in the event, but Eaneff confirmed 26 as the correct number.

That same day, Fremont administrators suspended the 26 students for the remainder of the March 3 school day and the following Monday.

Fremont Principal Pete Tuana said his administration has expunged more than 20 of the suspensions, based on a review criteria similar to that used by police. Tuana said other suspensions still are under review.

However, Tuana said the suspensions of the boys actually trading punches on March 3 are not up for discussion. "The actual fighters, there's no way we're letting them off the hook," he said.

According to reports, only two students were involved in the actual fight. The remaining 24 individuals allegedly gathered to watch the proceedings.

Eaneff said the police process had worked well. Officers, unable to get to the bottom of a problem at that moment, had issued citations, allowing them to later investigate the incident.

Jorge Martinez, president of Fremont's Parent Teacher Association and a member of Los Padres, an organization of Fremont's Hispanic parents, said Los Padres members were heartened by the recommended charge dismissals. But the recommendation that charges stand against some students still bothers many community members, he said.

"We're absolutely concerned," Martinez said. "There was no harm intended and no harm done. It was not even hot-tempered. It was a prepared boxing match."

Martinez said the punishment should fit the situation. Los Padres plans to explore ways to help the students being charged, he said.

Eaneff said the citations allowed police to initiate a dialogue with the kids and their parents, something Eaneff sees as positive. Some, however, felt the police had reacted unfairly.

Police reportedly broke up a similar boxing match earlier in the year without administering citations. School administrators issued no suspensions in that case. The first boxing match reportedly involved a mix of races, while the second primarily involved Hispanic students. The inconsistent reactions prompted some to see race as a factor affecting law enforcement's handling of the situation.

In the wake of the March 3 incident, The Phoenix, Fremont's student newspaper, wrote an editorial saying police reacted to the second incident out of a "preconceived notion that Latinos are gang members."

Gladys Marroquin, a student liaison at Fremont, said she felt authorities had cast too wide a net, pulling in all the Hispanic kids in the area. "I was disappointed. Instead of only two kids being cited they were 26," she said. "Only two were boxing, some just were walking through, and didn't know anything happened."

Police and school authorities held two group meetings with concerned community members to allay concerns and explain the process. Eaneff said he thought the meetings had made the situation a positive one.

Police reacted differently solely based on student behavior, Eaneff said. Students involved in the first boxing match, he said, were quick to explain the fight was in fun. In the recent incident, Eaneff said the students were much less helpful.
Sam Scott

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