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February 18, 2007
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Calif. officers injured at high school melee

By Leonor Vivanco and Charlotte Hsu
San Bernardino County Sun

BANNING — Police stepped up their presence at Banning High School on Friday, one day after a teacher was punched in the face and several officers were hurt in a melee involving about 100 students.

Eight students were arrested or face charges.

The brouhaha began after school Thursday when an argument escalated to a fight among four students over the possible theft of an electronic device, according to a letter sent Friday to parents from Principal Jim Broncatello.

Also on Friday, the principal referred questions to the Banning Unified School District superintendent's office, which refused to comment on the melee.

Feelings remained mixed Friday afternoon among students leaving school. Some said school fights are frequent occurrences, and others said they feel safe and rarely witness physical altercations.

Emilio Cifuentes, 36, was picking up his daughter after school Friday when he found out about the brawl the day before.

Scanning the principal's letter about the incident, he said he is worried about his child's safety.

"I'm thinking it's a safe school, but what I see, it's not now," he said.

What Cifuentes could not learn from the letter is that students fought with police and at least three officers were injured, according to Deputy Police Chief Leonard Purvis. The letter stated only that police were called in to restore order.

Thursday's fight intensified when a student said to be involved in the brawl punched a teacher three or four times in the face when the teacher tried to confront the student, Purvis said.

The teacher was taken to a hospital for treatment.

That's when police were called.

Banning officers arrived within minutes, Purvis said.

About 100 students disobeyed police orders to leave the campus, Purvis said.

"They were becoming basically angry and physical toward school staff and police," he said.

Students scuffled with officers, who called for backup, he said.

Jaime More, 18, a Banning High senior who witnessed the fight, said students who had gathered around to watch the brawl started "jumping in."

"It felt kind of weird seeing students hit a teacher," he said.

"Weird," nodded More's friend, Juan Villanueva, 16, a sophomore. "It's just weird."

About 25 officers from the Banning and Beaumont police departments and the California Highway Patrol were at the scene, along with a CHP helicopter, Purvis said.

Officers had batons and pepper spray at the ready, he said. Pepper spray was not used but one officer used his baton to strike a blow when he was attacked, he said.

"I was very proud of our officers. They used a considerable amount of restraint," Purvis said.

One officer was punched in the left eye. Another was elbowed and punched in the head. Another officer's finger was dislocated, the top of his head was scratched and he had a bruise above his right eye, he said.

"Our officers were very surprised at the level of violence they encountered," Purvis said.

Eight students were taken into custody and face school discipline ranging from suspension to expulsion, Purvis said.

One student was released without any charges. Of three students booked into Riverside County Juvenile Hall, one was charged with felony assault on a peace officer and the other two were charged with felony assault on school staff, Purvis said.

The remaining four students were released with charges ranging from battery to resisting or obstructing a peace officer he said.

On Friday, Banning police increased patrols on campus at lunchtime and after school.

There is no school next week.

Copyright 2007 MediaNews Group, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Full story: Calif. officers injured at high school melee

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