A 12-year-old Modesto boy has been cited for a hate crime and battery after allegedly attacking one of his African American classmates while they waited for the school bus.
The Modesto City Schools district’s reaction to the incident provoked the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to get involved.
La Loma Junior High School eighth-grader NuPhaeya Hassen said she was waiting for the bus at Badgley Drive and Sarah Avenue on Aug. 24 when the boy approached her holding sticks in both hands.
She asserts the boy held them in the shape of a cross while saying he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and raised as a “skinhead.” He proceeded to swing the sticks at her, scratching her arm.
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NuPhaeya said she responded by slapping the boy, who then went across the street and threw rocks at her until the bus arrived. None of the rocks hit her, she said.
“My child is a GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) student; she shouldn’t have to go through this,” said NuPhaeya’s grandmother, Rita Tillery. “Children should be able to go to school – black children, white children, Hispanics. We are all the same. We all bleed red blood.”
Modesto police spokeswoman Heather Graves confirmed that on Friday the boy was cited and released to his parents on suspicion of committing a hate crime and battery.
She wouldn’t discuss the details of the incident but confirmed, “Words exchanged between a male and female which included racial slurs and the female was assaulted in the process.”
She said the case will be forwarded to the Stanislaus County Probation Department within the next week for review.
The boy’s older sister also will be cited for battery, Graves said. NuPhaeya said the Downey High School freshman waited for her after school that day at the bus stop to confront her about slapping her brother. Police did not release their names.
NuPhaeya said she tried to walk away, but “she grabbed my hair, pulled me to ground and then started hitting me in the head repeatedly.”
NuPhaeya said she was on her back but was able to kick the girl a few times. The girl stopped when drivers began pulling over, honking and getting out of their vehicles.
Tillery said she was surprised by the young boy’s actions but disturbed by how school officials treated the incident.
She spent the day Wednesday with Frank Johnson, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, talking to administrators at La Loma Junior High School and Downey High School.
Tillery said La Loma administrators after the incident imposed one day of in-school suspension on her granddaughter. NuPhaeya’s alleged offense was outlined in a document titled “disciplinary action notice.”
“It never said anything about why the slap (happened) … not that racial slurs were thrown at her, not the scratch on her arm, not the knots on her head. She got suspended for a day for defending herself.”
Tillery refused to accept the discipline against her granddaughter and kept her out of school Aug. 27, the day she was scheduled for in-school suspension.
The meeting Wednesday, she said, was more disappointing because administrators referred to the in-school suspension imposed on NuPhaeya as a “cool-down period” rather than discipline.
Chrissy Mastras, executive assistant to Superintendent Pam Able, said Wednesday: “We handled it, and handled it properly, but now it is in the hands of the Modesto Police Department.”
She wouldn’t comment on Tillery’s specific concerns, saying she had to protect the privacy of the students involved.
In an email response late Wednesday, Able said safety officers have been added to patrol junior high and elementary after school “hot spots,” which includes bus stops. She said anti-bullying efforts are also in place daily.
Johnson said the boy and his sister were suspended but have since returned to school and that the sister is in a counseling program.
He questions why NuPhaeya wasn’t offered counseling for the trauma she endured. He also says the aggressors should be expelled, saying the boy used a weapon – the sticks – and the girl was lying in wait to attack NuPhaeya, acting as an accomplice in her brother’s hate crime.
“You have police involved to the point that, if it was an adult who did these actions, it would be considered a felony, and you are talking extreme racism,” Johnson said.
He said paralegals for the NAACP were typing a brief to document the district’s handling of the incident should the organization pursue legal action in the future.
Tillery said of the 12-year-old boy and his sister, “I want something to be done. I want them to know that what they did was wrong and this was not acceptable. They need to know that they can’t do this.”
Assistant Probation Chief Mike Hamasaki said the case will be reviewed by the department’s “Juvenile Intake and Investigation Unit to decide whether the case is worthy to take to the District Attorney’s Office to file charges.”
The case could also be closed if the elements of the crime are not established, or referred to diversion where the boy would attend counseling and education classes.
“Generally speaking, juveniles are not convicted of crimes but are adjudged wards of the court if court finds they committed a crime,” said District Attorney’s Office spokesman John Goold. “Possible penalties would be time in juvenile hall, ankle monitor, house arrest, formal probation, informal probation, counseling, community service (or) restitution. (The Probation Department) would look at the crime alleged as well as all of the minor’s social factors and any prior criminality. The fact that the minor is 12 will certainly weigh in their recommendation.”
He said hate crime charges for the penal code the boy was cited under are rare and difficult to prove. The elements of the crime must prove it was committed because of the victim’s race and with the intent to intimidate or prevent the victim from exercising a constitutional right.
Of the five hate crime cases submitted to the District Attorney’s Office this year, three were rejected and one was charged as something other than a hate crime, Goold said. The remaining case was charged as a misdemeanor; the defendant was convicted and placed on probation.