As the NAACP Howard County calls for charges to be filed against a Howard County Public Schools System employee who punched a Howard High student in the head during a Dec. 2 incident in the school’s lunch room, police confirmed Friday that the 17-year-old student from Elkridge was charged with three counts of misdemeanor assault related to the altercation.
“It sends a terrible message to the community that children will be abused and the traumatizing acts of an adult employee will be overlooked.”— Willie Flowers, president, NAACP Maryland State Conference
Sherry Llewellyn, director of public affairs at the Howard County Police Department, said police are pursuing two separate investigations as a result of the Dec. 2 incident at Howard High School.
A video of the incident, which was widely shared on social media, shows three adults, an administrator dressed in a suit and two others in uniforms, holding down a student on the cafeteria floor. One of the adults in uniform punches the student in the head twice and holds onto his hair while the other adult appears to hold the student’s arms down. A third adult in uniform, with the words “police” lettered on his back, holds down the student’s feet. The incident occurred as students were sitting a few feet away eating lunch.
The first investigation, Llewellyn said, was conducted by the Howard Police Department’s youth division.
“Witness statements and video from the school confirm that the student approached three separate students in the cafeteria and punched each of them in the face, one multiple times, in unprovoked attacks,” Llewellyn said. “The video shows that one victim tried to run after being struck, but was chased by the student, causing the victim to fall down a flight of stairs. As a result of those acts, the student was charged as a juvenile with three counts of misdemeanor assault.”
A second investigation, by the criminal investigations bureau, is also underway regarding “the actions of the HCPSS security assistant seen striking the student while intervening in the initial assaults,” Llewellyn said.
“This investigation is ongoing in consultation with the state’s attorney’s office to determine appropriate charges,” she said. “Each has taken the time necessary to ensure all evidence, information and witness statements are being gathered and considered before charging.”
On Thursday, Willie Flowers, president of the NAACP Maryland State Conference, made a speech outside HCPSS headquarters in Clarksville, along with other community representatives, calling for the school system to be held accountable for what happened to the Howard High student. They were joined by the student’s mother, who did not speak publicly.
“We never thought that a student would be charged for a crime when the student was the one on the ground being assaulted by three male adults and punched in the head by one of them,” Flowers said. “It sends a terrible message to the community that children will be abused and the traumatizing acts of an adult employee will be overlooked.”
Flowers said the community needs to show its support to the student, who is from Elkridge.
“We wanted to take every opportunity to amplify the mistakes that the [school system] made so that this child and everybody else is not forgotten,” Flowers said. “We want to give confidence to the child that when nonsense like this happens, our community is going to be supporting them.”
Others, including Candace Jaimes, chair of the NAACP Howard County Legal Redress, the Rev. Larry Walker, president of the African American Community Roundtable of Howard County, and Barbara Peart, of The Council of Elders of the Black Community of Howard County, also expressed their outrage about the incident.
Walker called for an “immediate termination” of the staff members seen in the video.
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“When there’s video evidence that shows a child being assaulted by an adult, something must be done immediately,” he said. “Every employee of the school system must know that when they strike a child, it is completely unacceptable and it will cost them their job.”
Jaimes said it was important for the community to come together to support the student’s family.
“It is pressing for the family because they have a student that is being subject to disciplinary action and to juvenile prosecution,” Jaimes said. “We hear about these incidents and sometimes they get reported, but they are not followed up on, but [when] you know that it’s right down the street from you, it’s important to act.”
Peart said incidents such as these, though rare in Howard County, need to be taken seriously.
“We need to look at this in the context of the society in which we live, in which violence is endemic and this was a violent act,” Peart said. “We ask that appropriate measures be taken against the adults who reigned violence on this child and that the school system, instead of hiding behind the policies, look at the policies and recognize what isn’t working, what needs to work and what needs to be changed.”
Following the speeches, representatives and residents joined hands to pray for the student and his family. Jaimes said she hopes the outcome of the discussion will result in a change in the school system.
“I’m hoping that the school system personnel and administrators will rethink how they treat youth of color with regards to student disciplinary action,” she said. “I’m hoping that the state’s attorney will rethink prosecution of school-related incidents that should be disciplinary action at school and rethink how they deal with this case.”