June 25, 2012 • Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer
A teacher and four students in Fontana, about 50 miles east of Los Angeles, were arrested for what the media is describing as a “hazing” incident.
The teacher is accused of having four of his students assault other students as a way to maintain order in the classroom.
Fontana police were contacted by district officials Friday about a “possible hazing incident that involved the physical assault of at least one student” at A.B. Miller High School, according to a police statement. Officials have not released details of the alleged assault, citing an ongoing investigation.
Police did say they believe the incident involved students in a summer school class that began May 31, and that a teacher, identified as 27-year-old Emmanuel De La Rosa “facilitated some students to carry out the hazing to limit behavioral problems within the classroom.”
De La Rosa “may have directed students to assault another student,” police said. It was unclear if De La Rosa had encouraged similar actions in previous classes.
Three of the four students who were also arrested are juveniles. The alleged victims were not seriously hurt.
As a parent, I wonder what the teacher could have been thinking. How could a teacher even consider encouraging one groupof students to assault another? If these allegations are true, at a minimum this “teacher” might want to consider other lines of work.
As a juvenile defense lawyer in Los Angeles, I strongly suspect that whatever the teacher and students did, it probably doesn’t meet the definition of hazing in California. The media seems to use the word hazing to describe a wide array of incidents that happen in or around schools. But California Pencal Code Section 245.6, which makes hazing a crime, defines hazing much more specifically. The Penal Code’s definition of hazing requires some kind of initiation or pre-initiation activities.
(a) It shall be unlawful to engage in hazing, as defined in this section.
(b) “Hazing” means any method of initiation or preinitiation into a student organization or student body, whether or not the organization or body is officially recognized by an educational institution, which is likely to cause serious bodily injury to any former, current, or prospective student of any school, community college, college, university, or other educational institution in this state. The term “hazing” does not include customary athletic events or school-sanctioned events.
Here, the news reports don’t include any facts that suggest that initiation was a motive. This wasn’t a fraternity or sorority testing prospective members. That is why, from a legal perspective, this doesn’t appear to be a case of hazing.
If this is deemed to be hazing, the teacher and the four students who were arrested could be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. Hazing is a ‘wobbler.” Here, the alleged victims are reported to have suffered minor injuries. Thus, if the students are charged with hazing, there is a strong argument that it should be a misdemeanor. Nothing, however, prevents prosecutors from charging the students with hazing, and other crimes such as assault, battery, child endangerment, and conspiracy.