Prosecutor Eliminates Two in Watermelon Inquiry

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Prosecutors have decided they will not pursue charges against at least two of the five Laguna Beach High School students who admitted to throwing a watermelon and shouting racial slurs at the home of a black classmate last December.

Two parents confirmed this week they received letters from the Orange County Probation Department in February that the district attorney declined to pursue a criminal charge against either of their two teens involved in the winter-break incident. The Indy has declined to publish the names of the parents or the boys because they are minors.

LBHS parent Maurice Possley, who says his son was the target of what he and his wife described as a hate crime, declined in an email to comment this week about what he said was an ongoing investigation.

Police Sgt. James Cota confirmed that “the other cases are still pending and I have not received any new information as of yet.”

Email queries to two other families involved were not returned. And contact information for the fifth family is no longer valid.

 

At least two of the five students involved in the incident are no longer enrolled in the district and have “moved along,” according to LBHS Athletic Director Lance Neal.

Possley and his wife Kathleen Falsani filed a complaint with the Orange County Human Relations Commission and publicly discussed how their home was targeted for what they describe as a hate crime because their son, Vasco, is black. The perpetrators were identified from a grocery surveillance video where they are seen buying a watermelon and later admitted their role to investigators, Falsani and Possley said in an earlier interview.

The five students involved served a week-long suspension from school and sports activities, according to parents and the school athletic director, which is the maximum penalty allowed under the district’s policies for students who engage in harassment or bullying.

Since then, the athletic director recruited student leaders to undergo weekly hour-long training sessions to better understand the code of conduct pledges athletes are required to sign, Neal said.

About 60 students recommended by school staff are participating in the training scenarios, where they are asked how to respond to various situations, he said. Questions deal with recording and texting on social media, he said.

 

Neal said he aims to develop a clear policy for a breach of athlete conduct rules similar to what is spelled out in school policies for drug and alcohol violations.

At a recent school board meeting, parent Sheri Morgan, whose son plays basketball, questioned the value of a sports code of conduct that lacked penalties for its violation. “Are they going to mop the floor?” she asked.

For at least one parent, the fallout from the controversy has a silver lining. “Our kid is a lot more resilient and open and communicative as a result of this incident,” said the parent of one of the teens no longer under investigation. “He knows he screwed up, and he knows we have his back. We are looking ahead to college, not behind at this sorry event.”

Correction:

An article in the April 28 edition, “Prosecutor Drops Two in Watermelon Inquiry,” misspelled the name of a subject involved. She is Cathleen Falsani.

 

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