Case alleges racial harassment

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Monday, April 12, 2010
— A Janesville high school student endured racial slurs and threats of violence last month, a case that is apparently as uncommon as it is appalling.

The offending student faces a charge of disorderly conduct as a hate crime in Rock County Court.

The accused student, David G. Warn III, is 17, so he was charged as an adult. Warn also faces possible expulsion from school, a Janesville police report indicates.

Such events are rare, said Parker High School Principal Steve Schroeder, who could not talk about specific cases because of privacy laws.

A Janesville police records search for the past three years revealed no hate-crime incidents at Janesville schools.

But the police report in this case indicates Warn has a history of racial remarks and intimidation

Warn, who is white, suggested to Hispanic students last year that they leave the country, the report states. His arrest, however, was over encounters March 4 with a black student at Parker High.

The details

The victim, 16, told police he was working on a computer March 4 when Warn entered the classroom and told another student to print out a picture of a rope.

“He looked at (the victim) and started to laugh,” the complaint states.

Later that day, the victim passed Warn in the hall, and Warn allegedly said, “Have you picked a tree yet?”

Warn and the victim encountered each other twice more that day, and Warn repeated the tree comment, calling the victim by a racial epithet at the same time.

Other students backed up the victim’s story. Some said they had heard Warn use the “N” word to the victim many times.

One student said he heard one of Warn’s racial comments March 4, to which the victim responded: “OK, David, that’s going too far.”

Assistant Principal Barb Dougal met with the victim and his mother the next day. Then she contacted police.

Ongoing issues

Assistant Principal Rick Lehman told police he had warned Warn many times to stop making racial comments to the victim.

Lehman said he has had many talks with Warn and his parents about similar issues, the report states.

Lehman told police that Warn “had some issues with” the victim because an ex-girlfriend of Warn’s had talked with the victim, and “David was very upset and jealous over that.” One student made a similar comment.

Police officer Scott Wasemiller, who is assigned to Parker, said he also has talked to Warn about “not making racial comments, threats or intimidating people.”

When Wasemiller and Lehman confronted Warn, he became defensive and denied the incidents, the police report states.

Warn was suspended for five days pending an expulsion hearing, the report states.

School actions

In the case of one student harassing another, the first step is to try to get the offender to see the error of his ways, Principal Schroeder said. Meetings with parents and school officials also might occur. Expulsion is considered when all else fails.

Racial aspects aside, Schroeder said students from time to time bully or harass others at school, as might be expected in a building of 1,600 teens.

“We try to impress upon them how these things could make other people feel,” Schroeder said. “As high school students, some don’t quite understand that, and they think it’s harmless.”

Sometimes, it’s enough to explain it to them, Schroeder said. Other times, conferences with parents or counseling are called for.

A school district policy adopted last August requires all staff members to report incidents of bullying and that officials document bullying in writing. Victims must be offered support. Bullies may be punished but also must be offered help to change their ways.

It’s rare that incidents are so severe that the last resort—expulsion—is called for, Schroeder said.

The bottom line is “we want our school and we want our students to be safe,” Schroeder said.

Hate crime

Marc Perry, a local black man who has been involved in racial and educational issues and who was not told the identities of those involved, said he was shocked by the story.

Perry said people might try to find excuses for Warn, and he said it’s natural to try to give a teenager a second chance.

“But imagine the 16-year-old kid hearing someone talking about hanging you from a tree, knowing the color of your skin,” Perry said.

“He’s a 17-year-old kid, so it may be out of anger and he’s looking for a way to hurt,” Perry said of Warn, “but given the anger in the country right now, you really have to take something like that a little more seriously.”

Perry said the hate-crime charge appears justified.

“It’s pretty calculated for somebody to say that to somebody else. There’s some forethought there.”

It’s only one isolated incident, but with Janesville schools becoming more diverse, officials are right to take this seriously, Perry said.

Last updated: 1:37 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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