Brawl reaction: Prosecutor and mother of injured student respond to support movement for 3 youths charged
Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com
The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office will not respond to communications from the Ann Arbor Board of Education and American Civil Liberties Union regarding the three Pioneer High School students charged in the Oct. 12 post-game fight between Huron and Pioneer football players.
Meanwhile, the mother of the student injured during the brawl told AnnArbor.com she's disappointed members of the Ann Arbor school board have made the accused's interests a personal cause with no regard for her son.
In the last week, the Ann Arbor school board passed a resolution asking Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie to reconsider the charges against three students charged in the fight between the Pioneer and Huron High School football teams. On Tuesday, the ACLU released a letter sent to Mackie asking for “better alternatives” to criminal charges for the three students.
Washtenaw County Deputy Chief Assistant Prosecutor Steven Hiller said Wednesday the prosecutor’s office would not be responding to the school board’s resolution.
“We’re certainly not going to respond to the resolution at this time,” he said. “We still have cases in litigation and it’s not appropriate to comment on the petition at this time.”
Officials said Mackie is out of the office until March 25 and could not comment directly.
Several people have called for the prosecutor’s office to drop the charges against the three students or, in the school board’s words, to “re-evaluate the degree of criminalization” of the three students’ actions during the brawl.
Two juveniles were charged with kicking Huron player Will Harris in the face, sending him to the hospital. Bashir Garain, the only player charged as an adult, is charged with swinging a crutch toward a group of players on the ground during the fight.
Members of the movement to support the students said they believe it is unfair that the three students were charged with crimes when the coaches from the two teams were not. The brawl started when coaches from Huron and Pioneer met after the game and began a verbal altercation that turned physical when assistant coach Vince Wortmann shoved Huron head coach Cory Gildersleeve.
Wortmann was not charged because prosecutors ruled he believed he was defending Pioneer head coach Paul Test.
Wortmann was fired after the incident. Both head coaches have since resigned.
Supporters of the students point out that the only three people charged in the fight are black. In the past two weeks, they have filled courtrooms during the hearings for the accused and demonstrated outside the Washtenaw County Trial Court.
It’s a movement that has frustrated Debbie Harris, Will Harris’ mother. She said she and her family fully support the prosecutor’s office and the results of the Ann Arbor police investigation into the fight.
"We are very disappointed by the Board of Education involvement and that of particular board members who have championed this into their personal cause, while disregarding my son's rights and best interest," she said in a statement from herself and her husband. "We do not have community groups, rallies, or the ACLU coming to support my son, and that's OK. We will continue to support the prosecutors office and defer to the judicial system as the voice of reason and justice."
Debbie Harris emphasized the family never asked police to press charges and were contacted after the brawl by investigators. She said her son was asked to cooperate with the police investigation and did so.
"We did not pursue charges. My son was asked to cooperate in the investigation as both a victim and witness," she said. "He is just one of many witnesses involved.
"Our experience was a very thorough, very methodical investigation by AAPD that included hours upon hours of reviewing various videos of that night, frame by frame, along with photographs."
She added the Harris family keeps the students who were charged in the brawl in their thoughts. They are her son's age, she said, and share the same hopes for their futures, despite making bad choices that night.
One of the juveniles has been found responsible on one count of misdemeanor assault and battery, while the other juvenile will return to court for a pretrial hearing on April 5. Garain’s trial is scheduled to begin the morning of April 8.
Hiller said that while the prosecutor’s office would not comment on the school board’s resolution or the ACLU’s letter, staff members had read them.
“People have a right to petition to government bodies and we respect that,” he said. “We read everything that comes to us. We have no objection to them petitioning us.”