Santa Monica’s police department has asked the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to step in and investigate administrators of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District to avoid any perceived conflicts of interest, citing the close relationship between the district and the City of Santa Monica. During Santa Monica police’s recent investigation of a hate crime at Santa Monica High School, officers were informed of allegations that school administrators had handled the incident unlawfully. “This referral is routinely made to avoid any appearance of a potential conflict of interest; it does not signify any determination by the police department that any administrator acted unlawfully,” notes a statement from the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD).
Sgt. Richard Lewis, SMPD’s public information officer, explained that despite the referral his department is still actively investigating the incident between the students itself.
The Associated Press reported that authorities are investigating accusations that administrators destroyed evidence. Sgt. Victor Lewandowski of Internal Investigations Bureau of the Sheriff’s Department said he couldn’t comment on an ongoing investigation and that it was too early in the investigation to state what the high school administration might be charged with.
“The District welcomes the investigation and is fully cooperating with the Santa Monica Police Department,” read an e-mail from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District to the Mirror. “In light of the investigation we are not at liberty to discuss this any further.” On June 21, SMPD began investigating a hate crime regarding a May 4 incident in which a brown wrestling dummy was suspended with a rope around its neck and black wrestler was strapped by connecting a chain to a belt loop on his pants to a locker while a couple of his teammates allegedly made racial remarks. One of the racial epithets allegedly made was “slave for sale.” But the Santa Monica Bay Wrestling Club explained in an e-mailed statement to the press that the wrestling dummy is frequently hung from a chin-up bar by a rope under the armpits for drilling, but on the day of the incident the attempt to hang the dummy failed resulting in a rope around the dummy’s neck, the statement explained. “The rope was tied in a noose-like knot at some point, just as a way to try to set up the dummy for practice,” the statement reads. “This was an understandably disturbing scene to some students, both black and white, but any noose symbolism was not the stated intent of the actions.” The wrestling club statement then describes that strapping the black wrestler to the locker incident as “completely unrelated” to the hanging dummy. “In spite of what has been published in the papers . . . nearly every student on the team, regardless of race, has been the subject of this prank at some point in the season. The Santa Monica Bay Wrestling Club also cites interviews with the wrestlers involved, as well as administrators, teammates, and the team’s coach. The statement contests that no derogatory racial statements were made at any time during either incident. “On the surface, and as it was reported in the press, these two incidents seem related and can be misconstrued by outsiders as racially motivated,” the statement reads. The LA Times reported that students involved have since been suspended or received other discipline. Additionally, the entire wrestling team has undergone sensitivity training. The assaulted student’s mother, Victoria Gray, told the LA Times she was upset because she didn’t find out about the incident until May 31 when a parent told her. Gray told the LA Times that she was never notified by the school.