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Sparks fly at Jurupa School Board meeting over campus officer's conduct

by Mary Shelton Friday, Dec. 14, 2001 at 1:13 PM

On the same day, that 20 African-American students were being peppersprayed by police at Sultana High School in Hesperia, An African American PTA president was nearly arrested in the parking lot by another campus safety officer from the Riverside Sheriff's Department. The question begs to be asked, are we turning our public schools populated mostly by students of color into police-states?

error Sparks flew at a Jurupa Unified School District meeting when members of the audience voiced their objections to how PTA Vice-President Timel Sebastian was treated by a campus safety officer at Rubidoux High School on Oct. 23.

Its going to stop with me, Sebastian, who is African-American, said, her voice breaking, as she related her experience to the seven-member school board, at its Dec. 10 meeting.

And four other speakers echoed her words, as each person walked up to the podium to address the board about the incident involving Sebastian and Officer Paul Robles.

The Reverend Bernell Butler, the cousin of the late Tyisha Miller who was shot to death by four police officers in 1998, addressed the board about an earlier incident at the high school involving his son, Jerel and the same campus safety officer.

This officer (Robles) assaulted my son, pepper sprayed him, and broke his nose, Butler said, pointing to Robles, who was standing with another deputy at the back of the room. Butler told the board, that his son had been assaulted by an adult male who was on the school premises without permission. His son had removed his coat to defend himself, and was then assaulted by Robles, Butler said. He had later asked his son, who had blood on his shirt, why he was crying, and his son had said that he was not crying, but had been pepper sprayed by Robles. Butler said his son had needed surgery to repair his fractured nose after the incident.

At least one board member objected to how the subject matter was addressed.

Please dont use the name of people who can not come forward and defend themselves, Board President Mary Burns said. Another board member questioned the legality of mentioning the name of the officer involved in the incident at the meeting, an issue that had been raised by board members at earlier meetings.

Butler objected, asking the board why they wanted to keep the names of those involved secret.

My son was victimized twice by the police and the school board, Butler said. When Butler was on the campus, he said that other students had approached him and said that they would offer testimony against Robles because they had experienced problems with him One of the problems they said they had experienced was his practice of profiling students and labeling them as gang members even when they did not belong to a gang, Butler said. Butler later filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court involving the incident with his son.

Burns pounded her gavel for silence several times during his speech, and said that the board was looking into the rules pertaining to public comment on this issue, adding that the speakers were there to address the incident involving Sebastian.

Butler said that the incident with his son was relevant because it involved the same campus officer.
Superintendent Rollin Edmunds said that Butler was being disruptive, and if he were not quiet, he would be removed from the meeting.

As Butler was leaving the building, Burns asked the administrative officials sitting in the front row to check to see if the microphone on the podium was broken, before continuing on with the agenda.

Board member, Sam Knight, one of the boards two African-American members, said that the issues raised by Butler and other speakers were outside their jurisdiction and that what they could do was limited by laws and district policies. He said that the board comments were intended only for ways to improve student services.

This evening we had a disruptive display of uncivility, he said, in reference to Butlers speech.

The other speakers in the audience had addressed the issue of how students and their parents are treated by campus safety officers, who are placed in the schools, by the Riverside County Sheriffs Department through a contract with Jurupas school district.

Sebastian said that she had a couple months to think about the incident, but that she still believed the officer treated her very unprofessionally, when he encountered her in the parking lot. She said that she had returned to her car after dropping off some posters in the campus office, only to be asked by Robles if she had parked in the wrong spot.

Even though a campus staff member had accompanied Sebastian to her car, that person was never asked by Robles about Sebastians identity. Robles had ordered her to get into his squad car, and then shut the door on her foot, Sebastian said at an earlier meeting.
Sebastian also objected to how she had been told earlier that she should take her complaint to the sheriffs department.

This is a school board problem because it happened on school district property, she said. The school board needs to step up to the plate and do the right thing.
Attorney Mark Blankenship spoke to the board about how the incident had impacted Sebastian.

Her grief is sincere. Her grief is real, he said. The trust is gone between Timel Sebastian and law enforcement.

Steve Figueroa, the national vice-president of the Mexican-American Political Association, said that he would file complaints with the U.S. Attorneys office, and the Department of Justice. The board needs to hold the officer accountable, else there will be no volunteers. There will be protesters, he said, referring to a large cardboard check that was brought to the meeting by Sebastian that showed how she and other PTA volunteers had donated over $440,000 worth of volunteer hours to the district.

Robles referred any questions about him to the Sheriffs Department at its Jurupa Valley Station. When Robles was informed that the station had told the Black Voice to refer questions to him, he then referred all questions to Rubidoux High School

When contacted at his office, Superintendent Edmonds said that Robles was an employee of the Sheriffs Department and it was up to the Sheriff Larry Smith to determine whether he acted appropriately during the incident involving Sebastian. We are concerned that people feel the way they do, he said.

He said that Sebastians complaint was the first complaint against Robles, but that there was an ongoing lawsuit filed against him. Edmunds said that his office was looking into the situation, and wanted to focus only on that incident so as to not dilute its importance. He added that a tentative meeting had been set up between Sebastian, his office, a PTA representative and possibly the Sheriffs Department on Dec. 14.

This latest incident at Rubidoux High School has been mentioned alongside the incident that took place between students and law enforcement officers at Sultana High School in Hesperia, ironically on the same date.
In that incident, over 20 African-American students were pepper sprayed by officers from the Hesperia Police Department. Four students were hospitalized, and six were arrested, all of them African-American, even though school officials had said that the incident was an altercation between those students and a group of white students involving a lunch table.

A $100 million lawsuit is pending, in relation to that incident.

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