LOS ANGELES -- Eight high school students in the middle-class suburb of Lakewood were in custody yesterday, accused of raping or molesting girls as young as 10 in a gang competition to accumulate "points" for sexual conquests.
Los Angeles sheriff's deputies who made the arrests Thursday said the incidents went back at least five months and might have involved scores of victims. Lt. Joseph R. Surgent said that seven victims had been identified and that he expected more arrests, with possible arraignments Tuesday.
The arrests, some of them on the campus of Lakewood High School, have divided the student body into angry camps and have shocked a quiet town that has been struggling against encroaching crime and gangs.
As counselors met with students yesterday, the principal, Mike Escalante, said the school had been traumatized by the arrests, made in front of television cameras, and that many of the students were speaking out in support of the accused boys.
There were signs of tension between the sheriff's department, which said it was investigating whether the school had withheld information, and school administrators, who questioned the need for showy, televised arrests.
One student came to class yesterday wearing a T-shirt bearing the words, "We support you, Kris," a reference to Kristopher Belman, at 18 the only adult arrested. The names of arrested minors, ages 15 to 17, were not released. All of the boys live in Lakewood, although two recently transferred to nearby high schools.
At the time of the arrests, deputies said they had identified seven victims, one of them 10 years old at the time of the incident and the others 14, 15 or 16.
"One victim led to another victim led to another victim," Lieutenant Surgent said. He said his department was seeking charges of rape by intimidation, rape by force, oral copulation, lewd acts with a minor under the age of 14 and unlawful sexual intercourse with a female under the age of 18.
Deputy District Attorney James Hickey said he would review the arrest documents and decide whether to file charges, probably next week. Authorities have two court days to bring arraignments in juvenile court, he said.
Law enforcement and school officials said the arrested youths were members of a loose-knit group called the Spur Posse, which took its name from the San Antonio Spurs basketball team.
They said the mostly white group of 20 to 30 youths was not a
typical gang, in that it was not territorial. But they said some of the youths had been arrested in the past for such crimes as burglary, theft and assault.
Their sexual competition came to light at a meeting of police officials and parents to discuss the gang's other criminal behavior. Deputies went to the school to investigate the next morning.
"The group had a point system, and each sexual encounter, the individual scored a point," Lieutenant Surgent said. "It was well known around the school, this point system. It didn't matter whether the girls consented or not. If they consented, it was a point. If they didn't consent, it was a point."