Student Charged In Video Incident

SALISBURY – A Wicomico County student has been charged with misuse of electronic mail and disturbing school activities after a video surfaced showing the suspect holding a rifle and making racist, threatening remarks, police say.

The Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office announced last week a 15-year-old male juvenile from Willards has been charged following an investigation into a video where he was seen brandishing what appeared to be a rifle while making a violent, racist statement. The Parkside High School student has been charged with misuse of electronic mail and disturbing school activities.

“At the conclusion of an investigation by a detective with the Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigative Division, the juvenile in this case has been charged via a juvenile referral through the Department of Juvenile Services,” a statement reads.

On June 14, a school resource officer at Parkside High School was made aware of a video created by a student. In the video, police say, the suspect is observed holding a rifle and making racist remarks that were threatening in nature. Wicomico County Public Schools reports the video had been shared among students, with word about it being spread through social media.

In the days that followed, the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation and positively identified the student in the video, who is a juvenile. During that investigation, deputies recovered the rifle that was brandished in the video and determined it to be a pellet rifle, which was seized as part of the investigation. The student involved in the video was removed from school for what remained of the academic year.

In a video statement issued last week, Wicomico County Board of Education Chair Gene Malone said, “As many are aware, just prior to the last days of the school year, an extremely offensive video was airdropped at Parkside High School of a student holding an airsoft rifle while uttering a very threatening racial statement. While the school system provided a statement to the community at that time, we feel it is important to reiterate to the community that the student’s hateful recording, with its message of racist violence, is inconsistent with what the Wicomico County Board of Education condones or teaches in our classrooms in Wicomico County Public Schools.”

He continued, “We believe strongly, and have reinforced through policy, equity and diversity. We were sickened by the display of hatred.”

Outgoing Superintendent Dr. Donna Hanlin noted, however, that the school system could not offer further comments on the investigation.

“While federal law prohibits the school system from sharing the specific consequences of this young man’s behavior, or that of any student, we can assure you that the code of conduct will be followed as it is with all students,” she said. “The school system is following state and local policy and regulations in its investigation.”

In the meantime, there have been calls for the student’s mother, Wicomico County Board of Education member Tonya Laird Lewis, to step down from her position. In a statement issued last month, Laird Lewis – who is currently seeking re-election to the school board – said, “Right now, we are focusing on our son and following the policy and the protocols set forth by the Wicomico County sheriff’s office and the Wicomico County public school system.”

Hanlin told community members last week the investigation was not “being stalled or swept under the rug.”

“The student involved in this matter will be treated no differently than any other student, regardless of his race or family connections,” she added.

Malone also acknowledged calls for a board member’s resignation.

“Please know that Maryland law clearly outlines reasons for the removal of a board member by the state board of education based on egregious misconduct by the board member while in office, which does not appear to apply here,” he said. “The resignation of a board member at any time is a personal decision and one that our board cannot require.”

He continued, “The safety of our students and staff in Wicomico County Public Schools is our greatest priority, and we will continue to reinforce equity for all students in our school system.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.