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L.A.'s mayor offers to mentor tagging suspect

March 01, 2007|Andrew Blankstein and Mitchell Landsberg | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa offered Wednesday to mentor a high school student arrested on suspicion of writing graffiti on a bus carrying the mayor and superintendent of schools.

The student's principal said the mayor would be subject to the same rules as any other mentor -- including the requirement that he be fingerprinted.

Speaking to reporters in North Hollywood, Villaraigosa said he agreed with the principal of the Santee Education Complex, Vince Carbino, that the vandalism earlier this week appeared to be a "cry for help" by a troubled youth. Given that, he said, "I'm willing to mentor him personally."

But, following up remarks he made the day before, Villaraigosa added: "When you break the law, there's got to be consequences."

On Tuesday, the mayor had said he thought the 15-year-old sophomore should do some form of community service -- ideally scrubbing graffiti off buses. Because he is a juvenile, the student has not been identified publicly.

Carbino sounded less than bowled over by the mayor's offer. A former police officer who is a licensed counselor, the principal said in an interview that the South Los Angeles school already has a comprehensive team of people ready to help the boy, including three psychiatric social workers, one full-time and one part-time psychologist, two intensive intervention counselors and six regular school counselors.

"This child is in very good hands," Carbino said. "I think what he needs the most is to be surrounded by people who are going to be -- let's say -- nonjudgmental and to follow the caveat that we have good students who sometimes make bad decisions."

Carbino said he met with the boy and his family earlier Wednesday. He described them as "shellshocked" by reactions to the incident, adding that the boy "felt hunted by the mayor." The principal said the student had written a letter of apology that the school was forwarding to Villaraigosa.

If the mayor wants to be a mentor, Carbino said, he will have to apply through the Los Angeles Unified School District, which would use the same standards as for any prospective mentor.

"We can't just let anybody come in through the door," Carbino said. "I don't care what title they wear. If they haven't been vetted through that process, I have to follow the Ed Code and district guidelines."

He said a team from the school had gone through the boy's entire academic record, including elementary school, "and found clear areas where this student needed support." The high school, he said, had developed a plan to help the youth.

"He is not a member of any gang or tagging crew, and this behavior he demonstrated Monday is actually a new behavior that he hasn't been displaying for very long," Carbino said. He added that the boy "is now dedicated to turning his life around."

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Det. Michael Shaw said the boy, who was booked on misdemeanor vandalism charges and released to his parents, has a court date in early May.

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

mitchell.landsberg@latimes.com

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