Monday, May 21, 2018
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Fights spur St. John's to consider halting open event

A local Catholic school is considering ending a tradition of hosting events open to sixth and seventh graders from other schools after a fight between two Toledo Public School students erupted into a chaotic scene that resulted in the arrest of seven youths and one adult.

St. John's Jesuit High School and Academy had invited sixth and seventh graders from other Catholic schools to a “dance and fun event” Saturday from 7 to 9:30 p.m. on its South Toledo campus.

Public school students were allowed at the $5 admission event that included music, an inflatable playground, food, games, and movies.

About 1,000 teenagers attended the event, which was chaperoned by six off-duty Toledo police officers, about 15 parents, and 20 St. John's high school students, school spokesman Chris Alexander said.

As teenagers started to stream out of the school at 9:10 p.m., a seventh-grade boy from McTigue Middle School punched another boy, an eighth grader from Byrnedale Middle School, police said.

As police approached those who were fighting, “children started to run all around yelling and screaming,” one officer reported.

Several smaller fights between teenagers ensued and police used pepper spray to subdue some in the crowd. No weapons were seen during the altercations, according to a police report.

Police arrested one parent for obstructing justice as well as seven teenagers between the ages of 13 and 15. The teenagers will face misdemeanor-level rioting charges. The juvenile who threw the first punch also will face a minor assault charge, Lucas County Juvenile Court Administrator Dan Pompa said.

Toledo Public Schools spokesman Patty Mazur said the district has not imposed disciplinary measures against the youngsters involved in the fight at St. John's.

“At this point, because it was not a TPS-sponsored event, these students will not face disciplinary action,” Ms. Mazur said.

Idella Sanders, 36, of South Toledo — who said Saturday was the first time she allowed her boys to go to a dance at St. John's — said she believes police used excessive force to disperse the crowd.

Her 13-year-old son, a McTigue Middle School student, was treated at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center after complaining of chest pain during his arrest on a misdemeanor rioting charge, police said. Ms. Sanders said one of her other sons watched police slam the older boy into the hood of a cruiser and then used pepper spray on the younger boy.

“He was trying to go find my other son, and I guess they were telling him to leave,” Ms. Sanders said of the 13-year-old. “He couldn't leave without his 10-year-old brother.”

Tabitha Poe, 34, of West Toledo was not arrested but she said she was looking for her friend's son from Swanton when she got a face full of pepper spray.

“I wasn't in the fight, I was trying to get around the cop so that I could see, because I was looking all over for Chad, and I couldn't find him,” she said. “It burned. My face felt like it was on fire. I couldn't see, and I felt helpless because I couldn't find the person I was supposed to pick up.”

Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre said no complaints have been filed against police involved in the incident, but he said supervisors will review whether the officers' use of pepper spray was appropriate. Chief Navarre called the situation “very chaotic.”

“When you have a large group of young kids gathered in one spot, oftentimes there are problems,” Chief Navarre said. “Now, I'm not aware of any problems in the recent history at St. John's high school, but we do have problems sometimes after sporting events.”

The event, held three times a school year since 2006, was created four years ago because educators worried there were too few safe, chaperoned activities for young teenagers, high school Principal Brad Bonham said.

“We feel bad about what happened. We put a lot of effort into it to be sure it was safe. We had law enforcement there,” Mr. Bonham said. “What's unfortunate is some kids that made some bad decisions kind of ruined it for everybody. We tried to do something special and neat for the students and a few kids ruined it for everybody.”

The Catholic Diocese of Toledo allows each individual school to judge whether to include students from other schools in their events, diocese spokesman Sally Oberski said.

Mr. Bonham said his colleagues are disappointed about the incident.

“It's just sad, to be honest with you,” Mr. Bonham said. “With all that time and effort to come out of it with this, it just doesn't seem like it was worth it.”

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