Charges Filed Against Students Caught on Video During Eaglecrest Fight | Westword

Charges Filed Against Students in Eaglecrest-Smoky Hill Fight Video, Parents Outraged

Four students from Eaglecrest High School have been expelled and criminally charged for a January fight, but parents call the punishments unfair.
Numerous people were involved in the January 17 fight at Eaglecrest, but only four have been expelled and criminally charged.
Numerous people were involved in the January 17 fight at Eaglecrest, but only four have been expelled and criminally charged. Westword
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A brawl after a basketball game earlier this year between rival Aurora high schools Eaglecrest and Smoky Hill has led to the expulsion of four students and a recent filing of criminal charges against them.

The fight happened on January 17 at Eaglecrest, and a large portion of it was caught on video, which was shown on television and online by local media outlets.

The incident involved numerous people inside and outside of the school after the game ended, including minors and young adults over the age of eighteen, and left one person hospitalized. But only four of the alleged participants, all of whom attended Eaglecrest, were expelled, with charges coming down on May 3 for the two juniors and two seniors as well.

The teens' parents say they just recently found out about the charges after being told for months that there was a chance that nothing would be filed, according to a mother of one of the students and a separate source with direct knowledge of the Cherry Creek School District's response.

The mother tells Westword that other students who were fighting that night inside the school and weren't caught on video only got suspensions and weren't charged, which she feels is "completely unfair." Then there's the timing of the charges coming down, which occurred just days after she and another parent filed petitions for a judicial review of the Cherry Creek School District and its handling of the situation.

"Within two days of them getting served, all of a sudden there's charges filed," the mom says, noting how she's been "upset, crying and frustrated" since finding out. "What else do you want to do to our boys?"

The 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office tells Westword that there are a total of six cases regarding the Eaglecrest-Smoky Hill fight, all involving minors. Two of the juveniles were issued summonses on February 5 and were suspended, while the other four were expelled and charged on May 3. Five of them are charged with "disorderly conduct-fighting in public" and the sixth is charged with disorderly conduct and "harassment-strike/shove/kick," according to the DA's office; all of the juveniles charged were students at Eaglecrest during the brawl.

Two adults were allegedly involved in the Eaglecrest melee, one of whom — Quincy Johnson, age nineteen — was hit with a citation, which was dismissed on March 20. Records don't show a summons for the other adult.

"They chose to punish and go after these students that they knew, that they have dealt with for years, as opposed to adult spectators that they didn't [know]," says the source who spoke anonymously. "They don't have a history of fighting. They're not kids you see being disciplined. Meanwhile, there's probably a fight a day up at Eaglecrest. At least a few fights a week. But this one was different: It was in the public eye and caught on video, which was reported out to the media."
Parents for at least two of the four students who were charged and expelled by Eaglecrest and CCSD have filed petitions for a judicial review to be conducted and issued by the Cherry Creek Schools Board of Education. One of the petitions was filed on April 26 and the other was filed on May 1. Parents say they didn't find out about the charges against their children until May 13, ten days after they were filed.

"I filed for a judicial review on May 1, and now we're seeing that they filed the charges on May 3," the mother who spoke to Westword explains. "I had called in April before our appeal and was told that no charges had been filed and that they didn't know if [the DA's office] would actually take the charges."

The petitions filed by the Eaglecrest parents outline what both their sons and CCSD say allegedly happened on January 17 during the Smoky Hill game.

"At the end of the game there was a conflict between two EHS students," one of the filings says. "Adults intervened and asked the crowd to exit the school's athletic entrances. During this incident a folding table collapsed. The noise created a loud bang. Some people thought it was gunshots and someone yelled 'shots.' This caused many students and community members to run toward exits."

Mayhem ensued, according to the filing, and verbal exchanges unfolded between "several" Eaglecrest students and two adult males who graduated from Smoky Hill. "[The adult males] walk out backwards as they leave the Athletics Hallway doors," the filing says.

Students from Eaglecrest allegedly exited with the two individuals, and they continued to exchange verbal jabs before the interactions eventually turned violent, with multiple people fighting outside the athletics entrance as a result.

One of the students who is facing charges, according to the filing, was trying to defend himself after one of the adult males began running in his direction. The mother who spoke to Westword about her son says he was in the same boat.

"He was worried about his safety," the parent says. "He was getting jumped and he decided to fight back. He was punched so many times, and you can see in the video, he's scared and trying to fight back. When I spoke to him on the phone, he was crying and said, 'I don't know who these guys are, I came out of the door and got punched. No one was there to help us.'"
click to enlarge Two people on the ground during a fight.
An item that parents believe is a handgun can be seen on video after allegedly falling out of an individual's pocket.

In one of the petitions for the judicial review, it's alleged that students can be heard yelling on video that one of the adult males involved in the fight "has a gun," and there's a brief moment in the video where an item can be seen on the ground after falling from a person's pocket, but it's unclear what the item is.

"Someone yells, 'Get the gun,'" the petition says. "There is no EHS staff. There is no SRO...nor Arapahoe County Sheriff."

The source with knowledge of the incident and CCSD's response notes how there's apparently no footage of Eaglecrest staffers or security stepping in to try and mitigate everything.

"Who do you see from Eaglecrest — an adult, anybody — who steps in to intervene?" the source asks. "There's nobody. So now you leave some teenagers to their own devices with people saying they think they heard a gunshot, and this is what we do? We expel and charge them? I think anybody who can frame it with all of the facts would not have landed at, 'You deserve the very worst punishment.'"

In one of the judicial review filings, a parent describes her son as suffering from depression and social anxiety as a result of the fight. "He also has ADHD, which impacts executive functioning and learning," the filing says.

The teen had a "manifestation meeting" held by EHS on February 8 to determine whether his ADHD played a role and had any influence on his behavior during the night of the fight.

"It was a night of failures," the parent blasts in the filing. "It would be unfair that [my son] shoulder all of the blame, when he had a fight or flight response to a potentially dangerous situation."

According to the filing, it was determined by EHS and CCSD that the teen's ADHD did not have an impact on his behavior. But his parent insists in the legal document that it did.

"[My son] explained that he acted out of fear and panic when he heard some students say that the man had a gun," the filing says. "The school informed us that there was no gun involved in the incident."

CCSD officials have 21 days from the filing of the judicial review petitions to provide an answer or official response.

The mother who spoke about her son's role in the fight, as well as the source with direct knowledge of CCSD’s response, both say they believe the district was trying to bolster its defense by somehow getting the DA's office to file charges.

"It seems like real coincidental timing," the source says. "Who's to say they [Eaglecrest and CCSD] didn't call to remind the DA to charge the boys?"

Westword reached out to Eaglecrest and CCSD for comment multiple times about the fight, the criminal charges that were filed against the students and what parents are saying about the school and district. Abbe Smith, chief communications officer for Cherry Creek Schools, declined to comment on most of the questions, but she did provide statements about the incident and CCSD disciplinary action, including the expulsions.

"We cannot provide or discuss details about student discipline due to privacy protections for students," Smith says in an email. "All of our expulsions are tied to violations in board policies that are defined by state statutes."

Lauren Snell, a public information officer for CCSD, reached out to Westword after this article published on Tuesday, May 21, and asked to add the following statement: "There are significant inaccuracies in the claims about the Eaglecrest situation.”

Responding to the mother's statements about the coincidental timing of the charges, Snell says: "This accusation is false. ... The school district has absolutely no role in the filing of criminal charges, and it is false to suggest that the district tried to influence the DA in this decision."

The mother who spoke to Westword says her son has a clean school record and has never been in trouble before in the past during his time as an Eaglecrest student.

Under the school's board policy, two factors are weighed when deciding whether to expel a student: They include whether "the student has exhibited behavior that is detrimental to the safety or welfare of other students, or school personnel" and "whether educating the student in school may disrupt the learning environment, provide a negative example for other students or create a dangerous and unsafe environment for students, teachers and other school personnel."

The woman's son, who also spoke under the condition of anonymity, insists that he's never disrupted school or exhibited behavior that could be deemed detrimental to the safety or welfare of others.

"I haven't been in fights, I always had good grades, I've always been a fun kid in the school who is nice to everybody," the teen says. "The way it happened, the way other kids that night didn't get expelled or charged, it makes me feel some type of way. It makes me feel like I got subjected and singled out. I didn't even know who these people were. I got hit out of nowhere; I didn't want to fight that night."

Getting nailed with criminal charges is something that the student says he is very upset about, but getting expelled feels worse.

"It hurts more that I am not able to finish the school year," he says. "I just don't think it's fair. There are kids who get suspended for having drugs, but we get expelled for one fight?"

The teen believes more should have been done to protect him and others that night by Eaglecrest and CCSD, as does his mom and the source who spoke to Westword.

"No staff came outside to help or stop it," the teen says. "They barely had anyone there. I didn't feel safe."

Asked about security on the night of the fight and allegations of a gun being present, Smith tells Westword: "We had multiple district security guards and law enforcement officers at the game, which is our standard practice. Security and law enforcement responded to the fight. No weapons were involved. We are referring questions about the investigation to law enforcement."

Since the teens who were charged are minors, ACSO officials are unable to provide any information about their cases or the charges they're facing. It's unclear what prompted the school district to only expel four of the students involved in the fight, and not others, and why the DA's office filed the charges when it did.

Eric Ross, media relations director for the DA, says the prosecutor handling the Eaglecrest cases did not directly speak with anyone affiliated with CCSD.

"We do not make charging decisions based on pressure or requests from external stakeholders, including parents, citizens, school district administrators, etc.," he says. "We pursue charges based solely on the facts and evidence presented to our office for review, and we only proceed forward with cases we believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court."

In a January email to students, Eaglecrest High School principal Gwen Hansen-Vigil wrote: “Violence of any kind is not tolerated in the Cherry Creek School District, and anyone found to be involved in fights will face serious disciplinary consequences and may face legal repercussions as well."

But the mother and source who spoke to Westword say this was only the case for people caught on video, and not everyone involved. The lack of accountability has also extended to Eaglecrest and CCSD officials themselves, according to the mom and source who spoke anonymously.

"They never changed course. They never looked at any of the things they did wrong or any of their failures that night to say, 'Oh, let's at least appropriately frame this thing, that even if it was a fight and we have to punish them, let's be real about the night,'" the source says. "The school has shown zero accountability. If you want the kids to be accountable, then you share in that accountability. Because there are too many things you failed at that night."
click to enlarge A young person lying on the ground during a fight outside a school.
At least one person was hospitalized as a result of the fight.

Eaglecrest and the CCSD Board of Education are one of several schools and school boards under review by the newly introduced "Green Book Initiative" out of Denver, which was formed by Black community leaders to hold educational institutions accountable for their treatment of Black students, educators and boardmembers.

Several parents have come forward to speak and share their experiences with the organizations behind the initiative — which include the Center for Advancing Black Excellence in Education and the Epitome of Black Excellence & Partnership — saying they feel the students involved, who are all Black, are being discriminated against and treated unfairly.

"These individuals were being jumped and they defended themselves with their hands," says former Denver School Board vice president Auon'tai Anderson, who is now CEO of the Center for Advancing Black Excellence in Education. "So under the Green Book Initiative, we've now put both Cherry Creek School Board and also [Eaglecrest] on 'Exodus' governance...where we would encourage Black families to find alternative options and support neighboring school districts."

Smith wouldn't comment directly on the Green Book Initiative investigation, but she did say that CCSD is committed to providing a safe and comfortable environment for "all students."

"Equity is a core value of the Cherry Creek School District, and it is a priority of the district to ensure our schools are safe, welcoming and inclusive spaces for all students," Smith tells Westword.

The mother of the teen who is speaking out disagrees and accuses CCSD and Eaglecrest of doing the opposite.

"I really want them to take accountability for what they've done to these four boys," she says.

"They're putting this all on the children when they should take accountability and just admit that there should have been security there, there should have been adults outside, and there was not any. They're putting this all on our boys like it's their fault. ... There was a supposed gunshot. You made my son feel like he's a criminal, that he's someone who is a delinquent, and he's worked very, very hard. He's been focused on his education, and you took it away from him like he was a delinquent child who did something like bring a gun to school or did something horribly wrong. He's not going to get back his last several months. He's not going to get that back."

This article was updated on Wednesday, May 22, to include statements shared by Lauren Snell and Eric Ross after publication.
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