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KOLD INVESTIGATES: Nine facing charges following violent fight at Tucson school

Criticism surfaces about how school district is handling severe discipline cases
Published: Feb. 28, 2022 at 10:42 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 1, 2022 at 1:09 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - KOLD has uncovered more information about a violent fight at a Tucson school last year.

One of the people arrested is a Rincon High staff member.

So far, six people have been arrested, including the two reported shortly after the fight.

Three more are still outstanding.

That’s a total of nine people committing misdemeanor and felony crimes in the violent melee.

We are not naming any of the teens involved because they’re juveniles between the ages of 15 and 17.

HOW IT STARTED

A fistfight started between two teen girls who had been “feud(ing) since the eighth grade”.”

The police report reveals they had a fight earlier in the day and they continued it after school right outside the fence, “grappling, striking and pulling each other’s hair while rolling around on the ground.”

The video shows the fight attracted a crowd of boys, girls and adults. Some engaged in the fight, others tried to stop it.

Michael Hanaford, campus security and a volunteer wrestling coach, stepped into the scene.

As the teens continued to argue and throw punches, Hanaford yelled, “back up now” but nobody listened.

Hanaford told police he attempted to break up the fight by wrapping his arms around one of the boys, trying to push him back.

He told police “he cannot remember anything after that.”

But there were witnesses, including Deshaun Epps, a staffer who also stepped in to diffuse the violence.

“Instead of just separating, it was more pushing and it turned on him,” Epps said.

One of the boys “appears to pull {Hanaford} causing him to fall to the ground.”

That’s when his right wrist is “fractured and dislocated.”

Hanaford got back up and reportedly grabbed a teenager’s head. Another boy pushed Hanaford and he “stumbled to the ground.”

The police report shows Epps thought Hanaford was “trying to protect himself” because “the boys were coming after him,” but he “just heightened the situation.”

Another witness, the University High assistant principal, said they “train their staff to de-escalate a fight” and “that’s not what {she} saw.”

He pursued the same boy who moved behind one of the girls.

Hanaford swung and hit a girl in the face causing her to stumble back.

ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE

When that happened, Epps said “all hell broke loose.”

Three boys rushed in and “(Hanaford) fell to the ground.”

The boys threw “violent strikes” to Hanaford’s body and head. An unknown person then stomped on Hanaford’s head.

The repeated blows knocked Hanaford unconscious, and the boys stopped and moved away from him.

That’s when Briana Harder, the mother of one of the girls, comes into view.

She had showed up at the scene minutes earlier.

She picked up Hanaford’s walkie-talkie and struck him with it.

She was arrested and charged with aggravated assault/disfigurement.

One of boys was also arrested and charged with aggravated assault/disfigurement.

Hanaford suffered cuts to his head, with one requiring stitches.

THE INVESTIGATION

Police arrested Hanaford six days later on charges of intentional and reckless assault.

Days later, three more teens were arrested, two for aggravated assault and one for disorderly conduct.

That leaves three more who police are looking for.

Two have been charged with disorderly conduct/fighting and the unknown person who stomped on Hanaford’s head is still sought.

KOLD reached out to the district to get more details on the fight, including Hanaford’s employment status.

TUSD sent this statement:

We do get information on school protocols from Hanaford.

He told police that he’s authorized to protect himself. He said he’s authorized to go “hands-on” to separate fights.

However, he is not authorized to physically attack or punch students. In this incident, he told police, he felt he needed to separate the fight.

TUSD FACING CRITICISM

These violent incidents are raising questions and criticism about how the Tucson Unified School District has dealt with this level of discipline this year.

Two major fights have broken out at Rincon High within months of each other.

Nearly a dozen students have been arrested with some charged with aggravated assault and others for fighting.

At Gridley Middle School, a student brought a loaded gun to campus a day after returning from suspension.

And a female student is suspended twice for 45 days after fights.

John Easely, a seventh-grade teacher at Gridley, came forward about severe discipline cases because he’s worried about how the district handles them. He said some students are returning to campus and immediately re-offending.

“We end up with children that are missing most of the school year and nothing positive has happened for them to change where they’ve been when they had their first incident,” Easely said.

FRUSTRATED WITH THE SYSTEM

“I believe that if you don’t nip it in the bud when you see it, it’s only going to get bigger and bigger,” said Tony Mosley.

Mosley was a veteran counselor at Gridley, but he left this school year, partially out of frustration with the system.

“Then you get overwhelmed, but then you become more reactive than proactive. I think we need to be much more proactive in a system, kind of anticipate what direction we go in,” he said.

Easely and Mosley believe most of the district’s severe disciplinary actions are reactionary to the problems boiling over at some schools.

Sylvia Campoy, a civil rights compliance officer involved with TUSD’s desegregation order for decades, believes that too.

“There’s a massive disconnect between central administration and the school,” she said.

She monitors how the district handles discipline, including restorative practices, which are steps taken to help restore good behavior in troubled students.

“From someone who’s on the outside and gets calls from teachers, even from principals, from parents, I can tell you that what I see is inconsistency,” Campoy said. “There are so many misconceptions in what should be in place to service students and to support teachers.”

She said inconsistencies and misconceptions not only with how restorative measures are utilized, but who receives them.

“I saw this a lot where you have this one kid constantly offending, constantly disrupting the class with a teacher and administration,” Mosley said. “You can spend four or five hours with this one kid and all these other kids are getting overlooked because you’re spending so much time with these repeat offenders. The only reason they’re repeat offenders is because they know they can get away with it.”

HARD TO MONITOR

Because of federal FERPA rules that protect student privacy, there’s no way we can check into the inconsistencies and students’ history of discipline issues.

TUSD said it won’t comment on discipline, making it more difficult to monitor how the district is handling these issues and whether the policies in place are effective.

Campoy has criticized the district in court for stripping down staffing levels in the District Alternative Education Program, known as DAEP.

It deals with severe discipline cases. She wants staffing and student services restored.

The district argued general staffing shortages led to the cuts in DAEP this school year, but it’s only a temporary measure.

Not the measure, Campoy believes, the district should have banked on because the stakes are too high.

“We know that discipline has escalated. We know kids have come back from the pandemic with emotional and social issues. Not every kid, but a lot of the kids are having trouble,” Campoy said, “So for kids that are acting out at school, maybe even severely, right now is the time that emotional and social services are in desperate needs.”

KOLD’s investigation continues into the severe discipline issues in TUSD, as well as the District Alternative Education program that’s designed to help keep kids out of prison.

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