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Arrests Vowed in Canoga Park Looting

Up to 30 leave class for student antiwar protest but ransack mini-mart. Photo points to suspects.

March 07, 2003|Kristina Sauerwein | Times Staff Writer

Armed with security camera footage and a newspaper photograph, Los Angeles police warned Thursday that arrests are imminent in a Canoga Park looting incident involving 15 to 30 teenagers who left class Wednesday to participate in a nationwide student antiwar protest, but ended up raiding the candy rack at a gas station mini-mart.

"We anticipate follow-through very soon," possibly today, said Lt. Gary Hallden, who is leading the investigation for the Los Angeles Police Department's West Valley Division. "We can't ignore the crime."

Part of the evidence includes surveillance videotape that captured the scene at the Mobil gas station convenience store at Topanga Canyon and Victory boulevards.

Students arrested in connection with the incident face a range of possible punishments, depending on whether they have a record. They may be referred to counseling or prosecuted for theft and vandalism through the juvenile justice system, Hallden said.

School officials at Canoga Park High School, including those who supervised the young demonstrators, said they are cooperating with police in helping identify students who strayed from the otherwise peaceful protest. More than 100 teenagers from the campus marched in a lunchtime demonstration against the U.S. policy on Iraq.

Police said they don't have a motive for the students who stole snacks from the store, broke windows and vandalized display cases. A handful also ran into a nearby bank and fast-food restaurant shouting "peace" and smashing some business and car windows, authorities said.

"Unfortunately, these students were a few bad apples," Hallden said, describing most of Canoga Park High's demonstrators as well-behaved and peaceful.

Principal Dennis Thompson met Thursday with two dozen or so students caught swarming the convenience story in a large photograph splashed across the front page of the Daily News, based in the San Fernando Valley. Before classes began Thursday, teachers had already identified every student in the photograph.

The teenagers could face suspension or removal from the 2,300-student campus, Thompson said.

Thompson also asked all teachers to read during first-period classes a statement he wrote: "All of us at Canoga Park High School are entitled to our own beliefs about the current situation in Iraq. This great country of ours also allows us the opportunity to express our views as long as it is in a nonviolent way....

"The [student] demonstrators wanted to send a message of antiwar and antiviolence, but this message was not heard by our community -- they heard and saw a message that Canoga Park High School is full of vandals and criminals."

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