Samba Dioum, East Student Behind SWAT Lockdown: Transferred, Not Expelled

Update: Denver Public Schools has come to a decision regarding East High student Elhadji Samba Dioum following closed-doors expulsion hearings last week. Dioum's future in the school system had been uncertain since he was at the center of a lockdown that occurred on East High's campus on December 3

Tuesday, it was decided that Dioum will not be expelled from the Denver Public Schools system, but will instead be transferred from East High School to the Contemporary Learning Academy, according to attorney Rob Blume, who represented Dioum before the DPS.  And Dioum, a popular basketball player who moved here from Senegal, will still be able to play for the East High Angels; there will be some restrictions, but those have not been finalized. 

Dioum is accused of attempting to rob another student on December 3 by threatening the student with a BB gun, an incident that Dioum and his attorneys insist was a misinterpreted joke; he was suspended while the DPS considered his case. 

The incident, which led to the East lockdown as well as Dioum's subsequent arrest by police — his bail was initially set at $100,000 — also sparked a groundswell of support for Dioum. Best known as  "Samba," Dioum had many community members coming to his defense, and his incarceration inspired the social media hashtag #freesamba. After Dioum's bail was reduced to $5,000 on December 10, he was released from jail. 

As for the DPS  decision, spokesman Will Jones says  that privacy laws prohibit him from speaking about the particulars of Dioum's case. "With any disciplinary actions, information about a particular student is protected under FERPA — the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act," he notes. 

But even though the DPS has weighed in on Dioum's situation, he still faces a separate criminal trial concerning the December 3 incident; the Denver District Attorney has charged him with attempted aggravated robbery, menacing and theft. At court hearings in December and earlier this month, prosecutors countered Dioum's insistence that he was brandishing a BB gun as a joke by claiming that he intentionally led another student to a secluded spot in the school's parking lot before displaying the BB gun on his hip and demanding $20. Only when four female witnesses saw them, the DA's office charges, did Dioum stop the alleged theft.

With Dioum already having received community support that helped reduce his bail, his pending criminal trial is sure to receive a lot of attention from those who believe he made a mistake, made worse by cultural misunderstandings. 
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker