500 Riot at Fontana High

Leonor Vivanco, Lori Consalvo and Wes Woods II, San Bernardino Sun, Oct, 14, 2006

Bottles, rocks and fists flew during lunchtime Friday at Fontana High School.

Students poured out of classrooms when they said a fire alarm rang around noon. They then saw what they described as a racial or gang-related riot erupting among about 500 students on the quad of the campus near Citrus Avenue.

Some flocked to the chaotic melee with their cell phones taking pictures and recording video while others fled to get out of the way. Helicopters circled over the school.

“There were fights everywhere—girls and guys,” said Dalila Lizarraga, 16.

Campus police officers sprinted across four lanes of traffic on Citrus to the high school from the Fontana Unified School District offices when they got the call about a disturbance.

The fight initially started when one black student and one Latino student exchanged words, taunting each other during a pep rally on campus, said Fontana police Sgt. Doug Wagner. It then became physical.

“After the two students started fighting, additional students of the same races joined in,” Wagner said. “At one point, a Samoan group joined in the fight, and that is when it got out of control.”

Wagner said he did not think the fight was gang-related.

More than 100 law-enforcement officers from different agencies, including the Fontana Police Department, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and members of the Fontana police SWAT team converged on the campus and pried students apart.

At least six students were arrested, Wagner said.

“Two of them were charged with assault with a deadly weapon, meaning rocks,” he said. “And the rest of the charges were for resisting arrest.”

Sophomore Abigail Orozco said the fight was the biggest one yet at the school.

“It’s Friday the 13th, so maybe that’s why,” she said.

But students say fights are common on school grounds.

“It all started with blacks versus Mexicans, as always,” said.

But this fight quickly escalated to a big brawl with about 500 of the campus’ 4,100 students involved.

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Half an hour after the fight started, the students were moved off campus in hopes that the riot would calm down.

Police blocked off streets around the high school to the north and south on Citrus from Randall Avenue to San Bernardino Avenue, Wagner said.

At one point a group of students took to the street on Citrus, running south toward armed police units.

Although the crowd was moved, the fight continued and smaller fights broke out in front of the school.

“I don’t feel like we had complete control of the situation until about 1:30 p.m.—about an hour and a half after it started,” Wagner said.

The riot became so serious that police officers fired bean bag rounds and released sting balls, which dispersed hundreds of rubber pellets into a crowd. Some students retaliated, throwing rocks and plastic and glass bottles at officers.

{snip}

This weekend, administrators will work on putting together a plan for Monday when school will be in session, which will include greater security, Smith said.

“When Monday comes, we’re going to be well-prepared,” she said.

The group will discuss the incident, how it happened, their response and what to do in the future, she said.

Smith said she wants to bring in community leaders to help deal with student conflicts. Also, students who are inclined to start these fights should be placed in alternative programs and taken off campuses as large as Fontana High School, she said.

“Parents can be assured they can send their kids to school, and they will be safe,” Smith said.

BY THE NUMBERS

500 | Approximate number of students involved in the Fontana High School riot

6 | Number of students arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and resisting arrest

4,100 | Number of students attending Fontana High

0 | Number of people with serious injuries

100+ | Number of law-enforcement officers who responded to the school

7 | Minimum number of law-enforcement agencies that responded

8 | Number of campus police officers in the first unit to arrive on scene

12:03 p.m. | Time Fontana police were called

1:30 p.m. | Time police said everything was under control

RIOTS AND FIGHTS AT SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY SCHOOLS

FEBRUARY 2006

A.B. MILLER HIGH SCHOOL, FONTANA

About 30 students fight in the outdoor quad, punching each other and throwing bottles and food around the area. More than 20 students are detained for disturbing the peace and fighting, which started because of racial tensions between black and Latino students, witnesses said.

OCTOBER 2005

REDLANDS HIGH SCHOOL

A fight between two students, one Latino and one black, culminates in several students fighting with school officials. It ends after police use pepper spray on one student who struggled against them. Three students are suspended.

OCTOBER 2005

BLOOMINGTON HIGH SCHOOL

Fights erupt and prompt a campus lockdown and the cancellation of the day’s after-school activities.

SEPTEMBER 2005

PACIFIC HIGH SCHOOL,

SAN BERNARDINO

About a dozen students are arrested after brawls that police say stemmed from a dispute between an interracial couple.

DECEMBER 2004

WILMER AMINA CARTER

HIGH SCHOOL, RIALTO

Large fights erupt on two days. Hundreds of mostly Latino and black students charge at one another during lunch, and 57 students are treated for minor injuries. School is canceled for the rest of the week.

JANUARY 2003

SILVERADO HIGH SCHOOL, VICTORVILLE

About 20 Latino and black students hurl bottles and food at each other and attack sheriff’s deputies before eight of the students are arrested and cited. Deputies use pepper spray to quell the outbreak, which started because of racial tension that had been brewing for weeks off campus.

BY THE NUMBERS

500 | Approximate number of students involved in the Fontana High School riot

6 | Number of students arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and resisting arrest

4,100 | Number of students attending Fontana High


Some students blamed Friday’s riot at Fontana High on long-simmering racial tensions.

Jonathan Scott, 19, stopped by his alma mater to help out as a student assistant before the riot resulted in classes being dismissed. He said tensions between blacks and Latinos have been around for years.

“That I know for sure they have some issues with each other,” Scott said. Many times racial slurs cause problems, the college student said.

Police, however, were hesitant to call the riot a racial one.

“I don’t want to say this was racial,” said Fontana police Sgt. Doug Wagner.

He did say the incident occurred after a Latino student and a black student got into a verbal dispute. The situation escalated when more students jumped in. He said things got out of control when some Samoan students became involved.

Antonio Albarez, 16, a junior, said he saw a Latino student pull a fire alarm, and as it rang, students left classrooms and a crowd formed. The Latinos and blacks were pushing each other, he said.

{snip}

Gilbert Rodriguez, 16, a sophomore, said he believed the incident was gang-related.

“There were no weapons. It was a clean fight,” he said. He said he saw police shoot students with a bean-bag gun. He also said he saw police use a tear-gas grenade.

“It’s still not settled,” Gilbert said of the tension among students. “There will be more.”

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