December 27, 2006

"These Kids Are Out Of Control"

You would think in a upscale community like ours things would be kind of mellow in the high schools. Well, if you like Breathalyzer tests, chain saws, mutilated animal carcasses and death threats, this is the place for your kid.

For adults worried about the mental state of East Hampton youth, two events last weekend added gasoline to the fire of concern.

A boisterous party at Sammy's Beach last Friday night roiled into a near-riot, and the arrest of what cops called "a self anointed skinhead" spurred rumors of a near Columbine-esque attack planned for the high school as the school week began.

Police and school officials met early Monday morning in an effort to quell widespread tumult sparked by a flurry of e-mail messages about the supposed attack. East Hampton High School principal Scott Farina acknowledged he'd received dozens of calls from parents worried about sending their kids to school, as rumors predicting violence of a Columbine caliber flooded the net. Over 200 students didn't report for class Monday, the principal told The Independent.

"It's shocking, the overreaction from the public," East Hampton Town Police Chief Todd Sarris said. "We have absolutely no information that the individuals involved had any long term plan to do any damage," he said. News of loaded guns found in a locker was "absolutely not true" Sarris said. There is no conspiracy, he emphasized.

Sarris dispatched extra officers to the school to "let the community know we're interested and proactive." Farina said staff was instructed Monday morning to "deal with unsubstantiated rumors that something would happen at the high school." Assisted by police, school officials undertook a full-scale locker search to be on the safe side.

Farina hoisted a parent informational meeting Monday afternoon.

According to the principal, the furor seemed to draw fuel from e-mails and Instant Messages. Sarris agreed. "I guess e-mails are a wonderful thing, but they can also create panic and hysteria," he said, adding, "We're more concerned about the overreaction by the student body than the actual incident."

The "actual incident" occurred on April 29. A 15-year-old boy coaxed three Latino teens to his house in East Hampton. As the kids drank alcohol behind a shed, the boy displayed a machete and put it against the throat of one of the victims. According to Sarris, he said he had no problem killing Latinos, blacks or Jews.

Later, the boy menaced the teens with a chain saw, which was operating. The Latino boys fled, and none of them reported the incident, Sarris said. The school's resource officer heard about it over the course of the ensuing week. Last Friday, police executed a search warrant and found, in addition to two machetes and the saw, swastikas displayed in the shed.

During the course of the investigation, police were directed to the myspace website which posted a photo of the juvenile giving the Nazi salute. He was charged with juvenile delinquency and transported to a juvenile facility upIsland. Two of his friends have not been arrested, but they and the suspect were suspended from school, Farina said.

In the wake of the arrest, rumors that the suspect's associates would carry out violence at the high school began to spread.

Sarris emphasized, "We have no credible evidence that he or the other individuals belong to any organized unit. We think they're self-anointed skinheads." The chief estimated the group includes just five or six individuals, not as many as 20 as has been discussed. On Saturday night, someone threw a mailbox through the window at the suspect's house. That's still under investigation. The suspect's mother subsequently filed a complaint with East Hampton Village Police stating her son had been followed through the village by three Latino students.

Sarris acknowledged that had an adult been arrested for the same action, he would have probably been charged with a hate crime. Overall, he said, "We're confident the threat has been resolved."

And threats were the theme of the weekend as dozens of kids rebelled against police trying to break up an obstreperous party on Sammy's Beach last Friday night.

Police were alerted to the shoreline soiree and were dispatched to disperse underage drinkers. Three cops arrived at the end of Old House Landing Road and confronted a crowd of between 60 and 70 drunken teens.

As police attempted to get kids to leave the area, several of the adolescents became belligerent and threatening. They refused to go and as an officer attempted to arrest one of the kids, cops say they surrounded him, closing in despite his commands to stay back. He used MACE on the group, some of whom still didn't back off. Backup police arrived, as did an ambulance. The kids then surrounded the rescue vehicle and, according to some area residents, began chanting and rocking the ambulance.

As police dealt with one skirmish, kids released arrestees from the patrol car. Another got hold of the radio and screamed obscenities. "We were outnumbered, and dealing with an incredible volatile situation" the police report reads.

Eventually order was restored, and three teens were arrested on a variety of charges including disorderly conduct, unlawful possession of marijuana, obstructing governmental regulation and harassment. According to the police report, just three kids were charged.

"It's unbelievable to me kids would act this way," Sarris said Monday.

The "highly intoxicated" group included both boys and girls. Throughout the course of the incident, the chief said, "There was a great deal of screaming and cursing and profanities hurled at the cops. It's very disturbing, these kids are out of control."

Speaking of out of control, by midmorning Monday, as if the panic among the school community hadn't ratcheted high enough, the New York media began its descent. According to the Chief, reporters said they'd been contacted by parents who claimed school officials and cops were trying to cover up a looming massacre. "I told them all they're making a mountain out of a molehill," Sarris said Monday, "but you know what? They don't care. They're coming out anyway."

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