May 2, 2014

‘Real-looking’ water gun fight ends with arrest, school suspensions in Merced

One Golden Valley High School student was arrested and at least four others were disciplined by school officials after an early morning incident Friday involving “real-looking” water pistols.

One Golden Valley High School student was arrested and at least four others were disciplined by school officials after an early morning incident Friday involving “real-looking” water pistols that alarmed residents in a neighborhood near the school.

Some parents of students involved said the school “overreacted,” and at least one parent criticized both the school and the Merced Police Department.

Just before 7:30 a.m., police received a 911 call from a resident in the 1700 block of Carol Avenue who said there was a person hiding under a vehicle in front of a home with what appeared to be an “assault rifle,” Capt. Bimley West said.

Police arrived at the scene and spotted at least one person who appeared to be armed with a “real-looking” weapon, West said.

“The officers drew their weapons and ordered everyone to get down on the ground,” West said. “All of those present complied with the officers’ commands, except one individual who came out of a house and refused to comply with the directives.”

Police said 18-year-old Luis Alvardo not only refused to get down, but also “physically resisted” when police tried to force him to the ground. He was arrested on suspicion of obstructing police officers and released a short time later, Lt. Chris Goodwin said.

The other four students were released once officers learned the area was secure and the students were playing a water-gun game, Goodwin said.

Golden Valley High School was “locked down” for less than five minutes while police investigated the scene, officials said.

Larry Wilcox is a senior at the high school and was one of the students involved in the incident. He said the senior class has been playing a water-gun game called assassin or senior assassin. In the game, students said, teams “ambush” each other with water guns and water balloons.

Wilcox, 17, acknowledged that “from a distance” some of the water guns they were using look real. But he and his mother, Kathy Barham, said they think police overreacted.

Two of the students involved said police used too much force on Alvardo when forcing him to the ground and said one of the officers appeared to punch him while he was in handcuffs.

West said he had received no reports of officers punching the teenager. When officers are trying to secure a potential crime scene so they can investigate an incident, he added, fighting with the police “is just not good.”

“They may have been playing a game, but the officers don’t know that and we, as police officers, are not there to play any games,” West said. “These types of games shouldn’t be played out in the open, in the community or neighborhoods.”

Several students said the police SWAT team was at the scene, which was not true, police confirmed.

Barham said the police should have realized “it was just kids playing a game” and not made any of them get down on the ground. “I just think that wasn’t right,” she said.

Tommy Flores’ son, Austin, was one of the students involved. Flores said he had “no problem” with the actions taken by police.

“I think the police have every right to do what they did; nobody got hurt,” Flores said. “I told my son that he could’ve been shot or killed, because the police don’t know what they (the students) are doing.”

Flores said he doesn’t believe the game is appropriate, but Barham disagreed, saying “teenagers will be teenagers.”

Both Flores and Barham were upset by the disciplinary actions school officials took afterward. Both parents said their kids were suspended from school and likely would lose prom privileges and possibly be kept from walking at the graduation ceremony next month.

“It happened off campus, before school, so I just don’t see why the school should get involved,” Flores said. “If they’re responsible for the kids going to and from school, why don’t they enforce discipline on Senior Ditch Day? It just seems really unfair.”

School Principal Constantino Aguilar said students were warned early on Tuesday not to play the game “before, during or after school” and were told they could expect “severe discipline if they pushed the envelope.”

“In this era of school violence and shootings, this game is, at the least, in extremely, extremely poor taste,” Aguilar said. “Unfortunately, some students used very poor judgment and endangered themselves. I don’t think they have a true sense of how deeply people in the community and the police feel about issues of school violence.”

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