May 17, 2006
Nine Teens Arrested: Cops, School Respond To Riot
Last week, community members were shocked by the story of an East Hampton High School sophomore accused of menacing a Latino schoolmate with a machete. But even more readers reacted to the news of a near riot at Sammy's Beach in East Hampton — a melee marked by dozens of drunken and defiant teens acting aggressively towards police.
Why were only three kids arrested? Don't police have the resources to protect themselves? Does the school know about this? Those were just some of the most often voiced queries.
Police responded this week with a wave of arrests.
The hysteria surrounding the machete incident and a subsequent rumor predicting a Columbine caliber event at the school dominated the news and the attention of school officials throughout the weekend of May 6 and the beginning part of the week. During the early hours of Monday morning, May 8, following the arrest, The Independent asked high school principal Scott Farina to weigh in on the riot. His response was comparable to "Riot? What riot?"
By last Thursday, however, the administrator had met with police in an effort to devise a strategy to address the issues the incident brought to the fore. He agreed the notion of children so drunk they'd defy and even threaten cops is deeply disturbing.
To combat teenage drinking, at the outset of each school year, high school officials meet with students to lay out the district's conduct expectations, Farina said. In fact, kids participating in after school activities and sports are required to sign a contract promising to refrain from drinking. Consequences for violating the contract include getting benched for a game or at worst, the whole season. The dangers of alcohol abuse are woven throughout the health curriculum as well, Farina pointed out.
Responding to the queries, Chief Todd Sarris emphasized that the primary goal for responders to the riot was restoring order — dispersing the crowd and quieting it down. At its peak, there were just six officers on the scene, Sarris said, because it was difficult to mobilize the amount of people needed to make wholesale arrests at that time of evening. He said on Thursday that the investigation was ongoing and predicted additional arrests.
They occurred over the weekend. Adding to the three kids charged on the scene were another nine teens. Males with ages ranging from 16 to 18 were booked on charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental administration.
Several years ago, when community members demanded more beach patrols, the town board balked at the additional expense. The duty became the purview of the town's Marine Patrol. Sarris said last week that he had met with the head of the patrol and informed him that police will begin "aggressive enforcement" of beaches. "I asked him to be part of the exercise," Sarris said.
The chief said he anticipated resistance to beach party raids. Already by Friday he responded to parents who wondered what kids would do if they can't have beach parties.
That's not the Chief's worry. "I have no concerns about the perception of parents and kids over aggressive enforcement. I just want to make sure my cops are safe."
"The school has been made aware of our plans," Sarris said Monday. Plans include cracking down on beach parties where liquor is served as well as an increased police presence at upcoming graduation-related soirees, like the traditional senior banquet.
Farina said district officials plan to meet with kids in advance of the banquet and the Junior Prom to re-emphasize a zero tolerance toward alcohol policy.
But both Sarris and Farina emphasized that school and police can't succeed in a vacuum. Parental involvement is key. As is parental support. The Chief was pleased to note that, as of Monday, he had not received any word of complaints from parents of the arrested youth.
Updating the machete incident, the high school provided a venue on Monday for a meeting among parents, religious leaders, students, and community members determined to emphasize the need for racial tolerance in the community.
About a quarter of the amount of people who had attended the informational meeting designed to diffuse rumors of a pending Columbine at the school showed up this week. Isabel Soavedra, a student, spoke of how sad it is to feel threatened at school as a minority. However, she said, "Schools don't teach how to hate other people, it comes in our houses." The statement garnered loud applause from the assemblage and was echoed by other speakers over the course of the 90-minute session.
Last week two upIsland lawmakers criticized town police for failing to contact the county's specialized hate crime unit after the alleged machete attack. Sarris noted that EHTPD has indeed contacted the Hate Crimes Bureau when assistance was needed in the investigation of a suspected offense. The Chief explained he didn't feel a call was warranted, since local detectives were equipped to deem the incident a hate crime. Because of the suspect's age, he was charged with juvenile delinquency, not menacing or a hate crime as many daily publications and television media reported. According to Sarris, the elements of the case that would result in a hate crime charge if the perp were an adult will be fully presented at court.