Samba Dioum, Former East High Student, Accepts Plea Deal in Criminal Trial

Former East High School student Elhadji Samba Dioum has taken a plea deal in a criminal trial connected to a police lockdown that occurred on East High's campus on December 3.

On Friday, March 25, Dioum pleaded guilty to third-degree assault – a misdemeanor – as part of a deal with city prosecutors to drop more serious felony charges against him, including attempted aggravated robbery, menacing and theft from a person. As a result, Judge Ann Frick ordered the student to complete 175 hours of public service and face two years of supervised probation.

The deal brings closure to months of fallout and questions surrounding Dioum's future after the student was arrested in December. The absence of felony convictions means that Dioum, who is from Senegal, is less likely to face deportation from the United States.

Dioum was accused of attempting to rob another student on December 3 by threatening the student with a BB gun, an incident that Dioum and his attorney, Gary Lozow, originally insisted was a misinterpreted joke.

Joke or not, the incident caused the East lockdown as well as Dioum's subsequent arrest, with Dioum's bail initially set at $100,000. That's when many came to his defense, and his incarceration sparked a groundswell of support among the East High community. Best known as "Samba," Dioum had many community members advocating on his behalf and organizing around the social media hashtag #freesamba. A week later, on December 10, that support helped convince a judge to reduce Dioum's bail to $5,000, after which Dioum was released from jail.

In January, Denver Public Schools weighed in when it decided not to expel Dioum, but to transfer him from East High School to the Contemporary Learning Academy. Dioum, who is a popular basketball player, was also granted permission to continue playing for the East High Angels.

The student's criminal case was the final question mark. When it came to a close on Friday, Dioum was told to stay away from his victim and from the East High School campus, except for the school's basketball court during practices and games.

The victim's father was disappointed with the result, telling the judge, “This had a huge effect on my’s a crime and he’s a disgrace to our community and a disgrace to East.”

Dioum used a French interpreter to tell the court that he was sorry for his actions and hadn't meant to cause the other student harm.

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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