6 Saline students criminally charged in playground attack
Washtenaw County prosecutors have criminally charged six Saline elementary school students accused of assaulting a classmate during a planned playground attack last month.
Assistant Prosecutor Don Ray, who heads the office’s juvenile division, confirmed six petitions for charges of assault and battery and assault with a dangerous weapon were filed against the Heritage School sixth-graders in Washtenaw County Juvenile Court on Monday.
Two 12-year-old boys and one 11-year-old boy were also charged with conspiracy for allegedly discussing the late-morning assault during their lunch hour on April 20.
The boys are accused of using their shoes as dangerous weapons as they kicked the 11-year-old victim in the neck, back and head.
Art Aisner | For AnnArbor.com
The charges are considered felony offenses and would be treated as such if the defendants were adults. But because minors are involved, the cases will be handled as delinquency charges, Ray said.
If convicted, juvenile court referees will have discretion to impose penalties ranging from probation and fines to juvenile detention. As in any other juvenile delinquency cases, much depends on the facts of the case and circumstances of each person involved, Ray added.
“The court has a vast amount of discretion here to do some things like considering the charges as misdemeanors or felonies,” Ray said. “The case goes through the court in the same manner of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but there is a splitting hairs distinction.”
A juvenile court referee will review the petitions before court proceedings begin, officials said. The process could take from a few days up to a couple weeks.
Ann Arbor defense attorney Dan Geherin, who represents one of the accused boys, said he and his client’s family are concerned by the criminal charges. But he declined to speak any further about the case without reviewing all the evidence.
“The family is very anxious and very worried, but we will have to wait and see the evidence in order to defend him in court,” Geherin said.
Saline police said they determined the incident began when one of the accused boys pulled the headband off of the victim’s head and wouldn’t give it back, reports said.
The victim was surrounded on a soccer field, pushed to the ground, and was repeatedly kicked by several boys. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance after he blacked out and suffered what appeared to be a seizure during the assault, reports said. He was released from the University of Michigan Medical Center later that day.
Statements made to police indicate there were prior incidents of teasing or verbal harassment between the boys.
An adult volunteer supervising the playground at the time did not see the assault but intervened after realizing the boy was on the ground and was likely injured. The school district disciplined all seven students believed to be involved in the attack, officials said without elaborating.
Prosecutors denied a request for charges against a seventh student because investigators could not corroborate his involvement, police said.
“We did a thorough investigation, turned over the information to the prosecutor’s office, and the case will go forward from there,” Saline Police Chief Paul Bunten said.
Last week, the district hosted a forum on school security and race issues that have surfaced since the incident. The victim and one of the alleged assailants are black, but school and police officials say they don't believe race was an overriding factor in the assault.
Art Aisner is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at email@example.com or 723-623-2530.