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Warrants postponed in vandalism case

By Ed Brock

Seven youths will have to wait until next week to see if they will be charged in connection with the vandalism of Jonesboro High School while they were students there.

Clayton County police investigators went to Clayton County Magistrate Court Chief Judge Daphne Walker on Tuesday to seek warrants for the arrest of the seven suspects on misdemeanor criminal trespass charges, Clayton County Police Capt. Jeff Turner said.

Walker denied the application for the warrants and decided to hold a pre-issuance hearing for the warrants on June 8.

"We're trying to set up a meeting with her to determine what was wrong with the affidavits (collected in the case)," Turner said.

Walker said she could not comment on an ongoing case.

Turner said that detectives in the case and attorneys for the seven suspects will present both sides to Walker, and she will decide if there is enough evidence to justify issuing the warrants.

On May 24, officials at Jonesboro High School found that vandals had painted graffiti on parts of the school, left dead animals in the cafeteria and caused a total of $7,000 in damage. The vandalism was believed to be a graduation prank.

Attorney Keith Martin, who is representing three of the suspects, said he will be at the hearing. Previously he said his clients, all of whom are college-bound students at the top of their class, made a terrible mistake and are willing to make amends.

The students were banned from school property after the incident, Martin said, but their parents went to the school and apologized.

"We are ready to do what the police want. We are certainly ready to do what the court orders us to do," Martin said. "We're just waiting to comply."

Attorney Steve Lister is also representing one of the suspects and Steve Frey is representing another. Both say their clients are also remorseful.

"He made a very bad decision," Lister said.

All of those in the Jonesboro High vandalism case were allowed to pick up their diplomas, but were not allowed to take part in graduation ceremonies.

Two days after the Jonesboro incident, 10 suspects were arrested in connection with a similar incident at Mt. Zion High School, Turner said previously. Responding to a tip from the community, a Clayton County police officer went Mt. Zion High School around 3 a.m. and saw three males dressed in black running from the school. The officer caught one of the three and the rest were arrested in a nearby apartment complex after being found with white caulking material on their hands.

The locks on some of the doors at the school had been filled with similar caulking material. The charges against all 10 suspects were later dropped.

The delays in making an arrest in the Jonesboro High School case and the quickness with which the Mt. Zion suspects, all young black men, were arrested caused concern about racial favoritism with some people. At least some of the suspects in the Jonesboro High School case are white.

Dexter Matthews, president of the Clayton County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he received several calls, including one from a parent at Jonesboro High School.

"If you're going to arrest one set of kids ... and don't do anything to the others, that wouldn't be fair," Matthews said.

After meeting with school officials who said they didn't want the Mt. Zion suspects prosecuted because there was no real damage to the school, Clayton County District Attorney Jewel Scott decided there was no need to charge the 10 with a felony. Scott said it was then up to Clayton County Solicitor General Leslie Miller Terry to decide whether to go forward with the charges and Miller Terry decided not to go forward with the charges.

Scott said she could not say if the concern over racial prejudice in the two cases played a role in the decision to drop the charges.

"I will say that the public perception is that the kids are being treated differently based on their ethnicity," Scott said.

Miller Terry said the concerns had nothing to do with her decision. When Walker dismissed the interference with government property charge for lack of evidence due to the fact that there was no real damage done to the school, Miller Terry said, there was no longer enough evidence to support the remaining loitering and prowling charges.

Turner said the Mt. Zion suspects were arrested more quickly because they were on the scene of the incident and because when confronted by a police officer they ran from the scene.

As for whether the school system would recommend against prosecuting the suspects in the Jonesboro case, Clayton County Public Schools spokesman Charles White said he would wait to see the results of the investigation.

"There was substantial damage done to Jonesboro High School while there was virtually zero damage to Mt. Zion High School," White said.

Last week at a meeting of the Rotary Club School Superintendent Barbara Pulliam said she thought of the Jonesboro High incident as a high school prank and criticized the coverage the incident received from the media. Efforts to reach her on Tuesday were not successful.