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Deasy blasts police for not warning of student's potential threat

L.A. Unified superintendent says school officials were never notified by law enforcement about the danger posed by a student accused of fatally stabbing his former girlfriend at a South Gate high school.

October 03, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • Students visit a memorial at South East High School in South Gate for 17-year-old Cindi Santana, a fellow student who was fatally stabbed at the school Friday.
Students visit a memorial at South East High School in South Gate for 17-year-old… (Christina House, For the…)

L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy criticized police for never notifying school officials about potential danger from a student accused of fatally stabbing his former girlfriend Friday at a South Gate high school.

Abraham Lopez, 18, was charged Monday with 10 criminal counts, including fatally stabbing 17-year-old Cindi Santana, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said.

Lopez, a South Gate resident, also faces counts for bringing weapons onto school grounds and assault charges for fighting and stabbing a student, a dean and a school police officer who rushed to Santana's aid. Their wounds are not life-threatening.

The lunchtime attack at South East High School came just days after Lopez's Sept. 25 arrest for allegedly making threats against the girl and her family. He was initially jailed in lieu of $50,000 bond, but was released Sept. 27 after prosecutors declined to file charges.

"It was important information that was not shared with us," Deasy said of the allegations of threats and Lopez's arrest and subsequent release.

Lopez sneaked onto campus the day of the attack, Deasy said, but his presence would not normally raise concerns. The senior did not have a record of causing trouble.

Deasy said the school was warned by Santana's mother, who met with Principal Maria Sotomayor the Monday before the attack. The parent alerted the principal that Lopez had been arrested on suspicion of making threats, Deasy said.

Deasy said law enforcement agencies should routinely update school officials on known dangers involving students so administrators can fully assess a threat. Deasy, who joined the school system a year ago, could not immediately provide information on current procedures and whether they were followed. But he has ordered a review.

The sprawling L.A. Unified School District stretches over several law enforcement jurisdictions.

The South Gate Police Department handled Lopez's initial arrest. On Monday, that department referred all inquiries to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which is handling the homicide investigation. The sheriff's department had no response to Deasy's criticism.

In a report evaluating the original arrest on suspicion of making criminal threats, district attorney's investigators noted that Lopez "sends text messages to ex-girlfriend that imply that [Lopez] will send friends to beat up ex-girlfriend's sister's husband. But threats are not specific, do not show an immediacy, and victim waited 18 hours to report to police."

Investigators concluded there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Lopez. But they also noted ongoing concerns, including a threat to "distribute photos" of Santana of an "intimate nature." The evaluation recommends a follow-up probe.

The issue of notification is not new to L.A. Unified. The school system came under intense criticism in recent years when school staff did not immediately report potential sexual misconduct by school employees against students to police.

One such case involved then-South East Principal Jesus Angulo and Sotomayor, then an assistant principal. Both pleaded guilty to failing to report child abuse. Both were initially suspended, then later returned to work.

Angulo was later promoted to a position supervising principals, while Sotomayor subsequently became principal at South East.

If convicted, Lopez faces a maximum sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole. Prosecutors recommended his bail be set at $1.28 million.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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