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Police pepper spray breaks up fight at Narbonne High School

A fistfight between two girls that drew a crowd of onlookers ends abruptly when a school police officer shoots pepper spray into the air, forcing 47 students to seek medical help, officials say.

October 05, 2012|By Matt Stevens, Los Angeles Times
  • Students are released from Narbonne High School in Harbor City after 47 of their classmates sought help for respiratory and eye irritation after school police broke up a fight between two girls by discharging pepper spray.
Students are released from Narbonne High School in Harbor City after 47… (Rick Loomis, Los Angeles…)

A fistfight between two Narbonne High School girls that drew a crowd of onlookers Thursday ended abruptly when a school police officer shot a burst of pepper spray into the air, forcing 47 students to seek help with respiratory and eye irritation, officials said.

Students described a frenetic scene at the Harbor City school as the last of the fire engines and ambulances left the campus. Those stung by the pepper spray rinsed their eyes, some briefly accepted oxygen from paramedics and others said they were feeling nauseated as they made their way to a nurse's office that quickly became overcrowded.

One 16-year-old student was taken to the hospital as a precaution, said Brian Humphrey, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department. He said the student was in "good condition" as of Thursday afternoon.

Officials are investigating the use-of-force incident, a Los Angeles Unified School District spokesman said. The two girls who started the fight were cited.

Ninth-grader Ran'niyah Gill, 14, said the fight began about 10 a.m. toward the end of a nutrition break. Gill said that as she was walking past the student store, a girl verbally confronted her about a boy and took a swing at her. Gill swung back.

The fight quickly escalated to include three other girls and Gill's cousin, making it a "four-against-two" brawl, Gill said. By then dozens of students had gathered around, drawing the attention of a female officer.

According to a statement issued by the district, one of the girls had fallen to the ground, but the size of the crowd impeded the officer's attempt to go "to the aid of the fallen student."

"The crowd did not heed commands to disperse by school staff or the officer," the statement read. "Concerned for the safety of the fallen student and for the officer's own safety, the officer dispensed a short burst of pepper spray into the air to disperse the crowd."

Ninth-grader Tyleelah Agagee and other students said the officer dispensed the spray directly at the crowd before shooting it into the air. Agagee, who said she was sprayed in her nose and mouth, sought help for nausea on her way to her fourth-period class.

LAUSD officials declined to comment on the officer's status, citing privacy in personnel matters.

The school's handling of the incident left some parents angry. Gill's mother, Carlisha Jamerson, said she first heard about it from her niece, not Narbonne officials.

"The procedure wasn't done right," Jamerson said after arriving at the school to pick up her daughter. "I'm scared to bring my daughter back" to school.

District officials said an automated phone call would go out to homes Thursday and a letter from the principal would be sent home Friday. A district spokesman said the school's minimum-day schedule did not allow a letter to go out the day of the incident, as is normal procedure.

The pepper-spray incident at Narbonne High follows two others at California campuses. In April, a campus police sergeant at Santa Monica Community College deployed pepper spray on dozens of protesters outside a Board of Trustees meeting. Last month, the University of California agreed to pay damages of $30,000 to 21 UC Davis students and alumni who were pepper-sprayed by campus police during a protest last November.

matt.stevens@latimes.com

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