Posted on September 29, 2004

Scuffle Puts Boy In Cross Hairs

Joe Garner, Rocky Mountain News, Sep. 29

A 12-year-old Craig boy faces a criminal trial for a playground fight in violation of strict behavioral rules adopted after the Columbine shootings.

Honor student Austin Sadvar, a seventh-grader at Craig Middle School, is scheduled for trial Nov. 15 on a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.

The charge, which typically would result in probation if he is found guilty, resulted from a shoving match May 11 over a classmate’s musicianship in band class at Craig Intermediate Grade School.

The other boy, who is Hispanic, had been harassing Austin in Spanish for almost a month, Rich Sadvar, Austin’s father, said Tuesday.

When school authorities asked both boys to write what had happened, Austin wrote, “Maybe now, he’ll start speaking some English.”

Still, “the kid’s not prejudiced,” Rich Sadvar said.

“He has Mexican-American friends who have moved here from Mexico, and he’s spent the night at their homes,” he said. “They offered to write letters that Austin’s not a racist.”

Rich Sadvar said District Attorney Bonnie Roesink is trying to turn the schoolyard scuffle into a racial incident. He said the district attorney also “is trying to use my son as a pawn to get back at me” because he questioned her judgment in pursuing the case. “Our district attorney appears to me to be completely out of line on this,” he said.

Rich Sadvar said he has spent $2,000 on his son’s legal defense in the case, hiring Steamboat Springs lawyer Kristopher Hammond.

The lawyer said he plans to seek a special prosecutor, who would “bring a fresh pair of eyes to the case” to decide if it will go to trial as scheduled.

Roesink declined to discuss the specifics of the pending juvenile delinquency charge against the seventh-grader, although her office dropped a third-degree assault charge against him Monday. Also a misdemeanor count resulting from the lunch-period fracas, it would have carried heavier penalties than the remaining charge if Austin had been found guilty.

“There’s a lot I could say about the case when this is over,” the district attorney said, “but to say anything more now would be inappropriate.”

She said the Hispanic boy has moved from the community, cannot be located and is not expected to attend Austin’s trial before District Judge Paul McLimans.

Alma Sadvar, Austin’s 79-year-old great-grandmother, has her own grasp of the case.

She said her great-grandson “has always been a good kid, but he’s caught up in something that’s been blown out of all proportion.”

“We all know from growing up that there are some kids who will make your life miserable,” she said. “Something like this used to be handled by the school principal, but, after Columbine, they have to be careful.”

A dozen students and a teacher were killed, and more than 20 others injured, after two violence-bent students attacked Columbine High School in Littleton April 20, 1999. The worst school shooting in American history, Columbine prompted schools nationwide to tighten and enforce codes of conduct.

In rural northwest Colorado, the Craig schools identify 22 behavioral standards that could lead to disciplinary actions, from parental conferences to suspension. The violations range from using profanity to lying, from threatening serious harm to name-calling.

Neither boy was injured in the scuffle, which was “a typical student altercation,” said Pete Bergmann, superintendent of the Moffat County School District and father of a college-age son.

Other children apparently reported the shoving match because authorities have no information about an adult intervening.

“I believe we are doing a much better job in the area of student safety than we were 10 years ago,” Bergmann said. “Our policy is not zero tolerance, but there are behaviors that we will not tolerate.”

Bergmann said he was not aware of criminal charges against any other student in the district.

Rich Sadvar said his son was suspended for one day last term, but the fight had come to the attention of the Craig police officer assigned to the building the boys attended.

In a report to the district attorney, the officer recommended two charges against Austin Sadvar, Roesink said. One was the assault charge dropped Monday and the other was a charge of ethnic intimidation that was never filed.

No charges were recommended against the Hispanic boy, authorities said.

Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta said such one-on-one scuffles between schoolboys are “not uncommon,” but, like the superintendent, he is not aware of any other student facing criminal charges from such a fight.