By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
A cheerleader in her black, gray and white uniform was talking with a gangster in blue behind Montbello High School one afternoon last September. The girl, Janeisha Lewis, had a solid GPA and a goal of joining the Navy; she carried her pom-poms in a duffel bag over her shoulder. Janeisha knew the eighteen-year-old dropout, who claims Crips, from outside of school.
So did a rival Blood hanging out behind Montbello that day.
"What up Blood," the kid in red barked at Janeisha's friend. "Crip killer."
"Blood killer," the Crip barked back.
As the two threw gang signs at each other, Janeisha -- who stands all of five feet -- moved between them, trying to stop the battle before it began. She told them not to fight, that there were cops around the corner. Drawn by the commotion, other students gathered around. So did more Bloods.
Carisa Rice, a Denver Police Department high school resource officer who was once a Montbello cheerleader herself, rushed to the scene. Rice had met Janeisha when she'd given the squad tips at cheerleading practice.
Rice asked Janeisha to leave, but Janeisha wanted to stay and calm her friend down. Then, cheerleader to cheerleader, Rice told Janeisha that she needed to represent the school in a positive way when wearing that uniform.
Janeisha didn't appreciate Rice's bringing cheerleading into the situation. Rice didn't appreciate Janeisha's refusing to obey an officer. Their exchange grew more heated, moving from hostile to hateful.
Janeisha says Rice told her that she'd be off the squad.
Rice denies that and says Janeisha said, "Fuck you, bitch."
Rice told Janeisha that they were going to the school office, where they'd call her mother, and then escorted Janeisha to a nearby security truck while another officer dealt with the Crip. Janeisha's pom-pom bag got in the way as Rice tried to push her into the vehicle, and Janeisha got mad when Rice wouldn't help her get around the bag. Instead, Rice put a thumb in one of the girl's cheeks and a finger in the other, until, Janeisha says, she was "making a fish face."
"I turned, and I'm, like, trying to push her off of me, because I'm like, 'I can't get in, what am I supposed to do?' while she's trying to push me in the car," Janeisha remembers. "She's hurting me. That's how I got some scratches on the left side of my face. I turned around and tried to push her away. After that, I didn't see her anymore."
Rice says it wasn't the bag that was the problem, but Janeisha's attitude -- calling the officer a bitch and refusing to go to the office. Janeisha pulled her hair, hit her on the head and kicked her in the chest as she tried to put the girl in the vehicle, Rice later wrote in her report. As the two fell into the truck, Rice grabbed at Janeisha's clothes, trying to restrain the girl. When Janeisha kicked her, Rice grabbed the girl by the arms and pulled Janeisha out of the truck. They fell to the ground, with Janeisha landing on top. After a struggle that bruised Rice's elbow, Janeisha ended up on her stomach with officers holding her down.
Janeisha was cuffed.
The cops got Janeisha up on her feet, and Rice again tried to get her into the truck, but Janeisha wasn't done fighting.
"And I see Ms. Rice, and I'm like just still mad, I'm just upset, and I kicked her, and then she comes in and she hits me in my face," Janeisha says. "Words are flying, everybody's mad and everything."
The words flying from Janeisha's mouth, Rice reported, were something along the lines of "I'll kill you. You're going to get what's coming to you."
After Janeisha kicked Rice in the chest, Rice climbed into the vehicle and tried to immobilize her legs with her body. She used a police-approved palm strike to Janeisha's upper body to further restrain her, she reported.
The officers released the Crip, but they took Janeisha straight to Gilliam Youth Services Center, a facility for juveniles in Denver. She was charged with second-degree assault and theft -- Rice's cell phone had somehow wound up in her possession during the struggle. This was her first offense, but it was enough to get her thrown out of Montbello for her junior year.
There was no cheerleading for Janeisha at the school's football and soccer games last fall, or the volleyball and basketball games this winter.
There'll be no track this spring.
After Janeisha spent six days in "the Gill," she got to return home, to her younger siblings, to the file that her mother has filled with certificates of Janeisha's achievements, including a recognition for academic excellence from the City of Denver and naval recruiting letters. Janeisha had to do fifty hours of community service and take anger-management courses. She's now attending Emerson Street School, which is designed to handle expelled kids -- there are 73 enrolled there right now, less than half of the students expelled by Denver Public Schools this year -- and doesn't offer any of Janeisha's advanced-placement or college-level courses.