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1 inquiry clears Palmdale guard

Sheriff's investigators say a white security officer acted properly in a scuffle with black students. D.A.'s office is still investigating.

October 13, 2007|Ann M. Simmons | Times Staff Writer

A white security guard involved in a scuffle with three black students at Palmdale's Knight High School acted appropriately and used acceptable restraint, Sheriff's Department officials who investigated the incident said Friday.

"It is plainly obvious to us that there was no criminal conduct on the security's part," said Capt. Carl Deeley of the Los Angeles County sheriff's station in Lancaster, adding that security guard Chris Niemeyer "was incredibly patient" and "calm in what became a very tense situation."

The Sept. 18 incident resulted in protests by activists and residents who say that black students sometimes receive unfair treatment at the school. Other residents and district officials say the scuffle was an isolated incident at a school where the vast majority of students, regardless of race or ethnicity, attend classes without any problems.

Deeley said the findings of the investigation, which included witness interviews and a video recording of the incident, have been submitted to the L.A. County district attorney's office. Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, said investigators would continue "looking into the entire incident and all the individuals involved."

Carl Douglas, the lawyer for the three students and a mother who face battery charges, said he was hopeful that the truth would emerge after a full investigation.

"We look forward to an opportunity for a fair airing of all the facts that occurred that day," Douglas said. "We are confident that once these facts come to light, justice will emerge and the three students and the mother will be vindicated."

Deeley gave the following account based on the Sheriff's Department investigation.

The incident at the school started when student Pleajhai Mervin, 16, brought a sheet cake to school. Cakes, balloons and video cameras are prohibited on campus, Deeley said.

According to witnesses, Mervin intentionally threw the cake on the floor of the lunch area. Niemeyer asked her at least 24 times to clean it up. Instead, Mervin used profanity and started to poke her finger in the guard's face.

When she bumped past Niemeyer, he "grabbed her arm and put it behind her back in a control hold," which is a wrist lock typically used to detain people, Deeley said.

Mervin has said that Niemeyer slammed her down onto a table. Deeley said it had been determined that Mervin independently flopped down on the table and Niemeyer didn't apply pressure.

A 14-year-old student started to videotape the tussle. That boy was trying to incite other students and calling Niemeyer names, Deeley said. The boy was tackled by several security guards and handcuffed when he failed to hand over the camera.

"They were very restrained in what they were doing," Deeley said, referring to the security guards. "The boy's juvenile sister attacked the security guards, trying to get them to leave her brother."

The three students were arrested by deputies who had arrived on the scene.

Mervin's mother, LaTrisha Majors, arrived at the school after receiving a call from another student, Deeley said. She was subsequently arrested on suspicion of battering the principal, a vice principal and a security guard.

Deeley said that none of the teenagers expressed being in any pain before being transported to the sheriff's station, or while there; and they showed no signs of bruising or scratching.

Majors has said that her daughter's wrist was injured during the incident. Officials at Lancaster Community Hospital declined to comment about their treatment of Mervin.

Niemeyer has declined to comment pending the outcome of the investigations.

City officials said that as of Friday afternoon, 43 people had signed a letter to be sent to activists from outside the Palmdale area saying that the incident would be handled locally.

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ann.simmons@latimes.com

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