On March 16, before first period, Gregory Kearney entered Patterson Park High School. This is what he says happened next: Mitchell Rayvis walked up to him and said another student named Tayvon had stolen his tennis shoes. “I thought he was playing,” Kearney, who recently turned 17, says. “I was minding my business.” He says he laughed and ignored Rayvis, a 19-year-old he knows from his third-period class and from the football team, on which Kearney plays, as did Rayvis until last semester.
Kearney says he looked down at a text message on his phone as Rayvis turned away: “Then I woke up in the hospital.”
According to a criminal complaint sworn out by Kearney’s aunt and legal guardian, Antoinette Taylor, Rayvis decked her nephew with an uppercut to the jaw. Kearney hit the floor and remained unconscious for 40 minutes, suffering a bloody lip and a concussion. Many students witnessed the attack, she says, and it was caught on a school security camera as well. City Paper was unable to locate Rayvis for an interview.
Rayvis went for help, according to the complaint, as several students and staff tried to shake Kearney awake before an ambulance was called to take him to Johns Hopkins Bayview. “Yeah, they threw water on me,” Kearney says. As a result of the incident, school officials suspended Rayvis for five days, according to Taylor. She wants him arrested.
“My problem is, if you review the video tape, and he admitted doing it, why don’t you arrest him on the spot?” she says in an interview at the family home in Frankford Estates. School policy seems to forbid it.
“The report has been submitted by our school police,” city schools spokesperson Edie House-Foster wrote in an e-mail to City Paper on March 28, after we first asked about the incident. “According to the law, when the officer does not witness the alleged assault it is written up as a common assault. The victim is given a form 309 which he/she files if she wants to bring charges.”
Arrests of city school students are not unheard-of. On March 29, police arrested four elementary school students, aged 8 and 9, at Morrell Park Elementary Middle School. Three 9-year-old girls and an 8-year-old boy were taken from the school in handcuffs and held for 12 hours at the city’s juvenile justice center—aka “Baby Booking”—on North Gay Street, according to a story in The Baltimore Sun. The action was taken to end a spate of playground fights that had, nine days earlier, reportedly resulted in a near-drowning and a child’s head being forced onto a nearby railroad track. The children were reportedly charged with aggravated assault—a felony. “I think what they did to the victims speaks for itself,” Baltimore Police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said, according to the Sun’s account. (Citing an “ongoing investigation,” House-Foster says the school district “will not be commenting.”)
“They can arrest those four little girls [sic],” Taylor says on April 2. “I don’t understand it.”
Although school police have the same arrest powers as city police, the school system’s code of student conduct appears to remove much of the discretion police—and staff members—would otherwise have in determining potentially criminal conduct. The student code of conduct specifies four levels of discipline: classroom intervention and calling parents (Level 1); detention, restitution, loss of privileges, and change of the student’s schedule or classes (Level 2); short-term suspension (up to five days), community and other treatment referrals (Level 3); and long-term suspensions and expulsions (Level 4).
A matrix of “inappropriate or disruptive behavior” ranges from Levels 1-4 to “must be referred to school police”—the harshest punishment. Under the code of conduct, an unprovoked attack on a student can, depending on the severity of the injury, result in discipline between levels 2 and 4. Under the most severe “refer to school police” level, there is a notation that says, “Only repeat infractions that reach Level 4 may be reported to police.”
The requirement for “repeat infractions” extends to extortion, but not to drug possession or use—every one of those incidents must be sent to the cops. Multiple infractions are allowed when the student is threatening staff, but not if he or she carries a weapon to school, including any kind of firecracker or a water pistol. Property damage and theft are reportable to police on the first offense as well.
House-Foster says the code does not preclude a call to police, however. “While the Code of Conduct lists instances in which police must be called, there are no minimum requirements to a call for assistance that must be met in order for our police to respond,” she writes in an e-mail. “A student or staff member may call for School Police at any time if they need an officer’s presence.” She notes that police responded to the Kearney incident and that “school administrators took disciplinary action in accordance with the Code of Conduct.”
Taylor says an assistant principal at the school told her Rayvis’ punishment was up to school officials’ discretion. But while Taylor was discussing the incident with him, three days after the attack on her son, she says the administrator was preparing to have another student arrested for the alleged theft of two bus tickets. There was no witness to that theft, Taylor says.
Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Andrés Alonso has worked to increase grades and test scores while decreasing the dropout rate and number of suspensions and expulsions in the 84,000-student district. There were more than 26,000 suspensions in the 2003-’04 school year, and only 9,712 in the 2009-’10 school year. In his annual report last year, Alonso noted that suspension “incidents” had increased from the previous year to 11,068 but added that “three of the six offense codes with the highest increases are ‘soft’ offenses” (meaning disrespect, insubordination, or participating in a disturbance).
But the greatest increase in the 2009-’10 school year was in physical attacks on students, with 385 more incidents than in the previous school year, according to the district’s count. There were also 205 more attacks on adults within the school system. A request to put those figures in perspective, and to update them, brought this response from House-Foster: “This is budget season for us and every department is involved in the budget process. Meanwhile, the suspension data you are requesting . . . I will have to put in a request to our data office and everyone (central and schools) is on spring break.” She offered to get the data after April 11.
Taylor, meanwhile, awaits the arrest of Kearney’s attacker. She says her kids told her they saw Rayvis on school grounds before his suspension was up, but police told her they could not arrest him because the complaint she had sworn out had not yet gotten in the system. She says she went to district court on North Avenue to track the paperwork and was told to try Calvert Street. The clerk at Calvert Street suggested she try Baby Booking. There she was told her the report was not in the system, Taylor says. It was still not in the system as of March 29, she says.
When a City Paper reporter visited the address specified as belonging to Rayvis in Taylor’s complaint, a boy who answered the door said he had never heard the name. Neighbors across the street said the same. He has no criminal record that City Paper could find—and no open warrant as of April 6—nor could the paper find another address or contact information for him or a relative.
“I just want to know why he did it,” Kearney says. He received no apology, he says, though Taylor says Rayvis made an attempt to send an apologetic message through others. Kearney says he’s not interested in revenge. “That’s life,” he says of the incident. He doesn’t want his picture in the paper and, by the way he holds himself in the dining room chair, the way he looks at the reporter and Taylor, it’s a fair bet that he just wants to put the event behind him.
Taylor, however, continues to pursue it. She says when her ward was ready to return to school, a few days after the assault, a staff member from student services told her that the school “could not guarantee his safety.” She says that’s not acceptable, particularly when attacks on staff result in increased security for staff members.
“I said, ‘What am I supposed to do?’” Taylor says. “You slap me in the face, saying it’s a common assault, ’cause you didn’t witness it—but you have a camera on it and a hall full of witnesses.’”