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Teacher arrested for alleged role in fight club in probation camp classroom [Updated]

March 16, 2010 | 12:59 pm

Lanow.fight A former Los Angeles County probation camp teacher was arrested by sheriff’s major crimes investigators Tuesday morning and charged with six counts of child endangerment for allegedly allowing boxing-style bouts between his students during class in what detectives have dubbed "the fight club case," authorities said.

Teacher Stephen Wesley, 43, was arrested as he left a home in the 7000 block of Faust Avenue in Canoga Park at about 7 a.m., according to Steve Whitmore, a sheriff’s spokesman. Wesley was booked at the Crescenta Valley sheriff’s station and is being held in lieu of $600,000 bail, Whitmore said.

"This individual was supposed to create a safe environment for probationers, and he was allowing them to engage in overt violent acts," Whitmore said.

Cal Remington, interim chief of the Los Angeles County Probation Department, said that on Aug. 8, 2008, Wesley apparently was caught on a Probation Department security camera “encouraging minors to fight” at Camp Karl Holton in San Fernando.

Remington said he has not seen the tape but was briefed on the case when he began his job last month and was told that “the tape showed it all.”

According to a probation official who has seen the security camera footage, Wesley stood inside the classroom door as the students -- who apparently told Wesley that the security camera was broken -- cheered on fighters. Wesley allegedly can be seen and heard refereeing several fights, instructing shirtless male students not to bloody each other or tell anyone about the fights. Wesley also appeared to be on the lookout for visitors, according to the source.

“It’s unacceptable,” Remington said.

Although probation staff are sometimes stationed in classrooms and circulate throughout probation camps, no probation staff were in Wesley’s classroom at the time of the fights, Remington said.

Remington said probation staff who saw the tape alerted sheriff’s investigators. Warrants were issued for Wesley’s arrest last month, but investigators had difficulty locating the teacher at first, Whitmore said.

Wesley is no longer teaching in the probation camps or halls, probation staff said.

According to Margo Minecki, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, Wesley resigned Sept 29, 2008, after the school district's internal investigation of the incident ended but before he could be disciplined.

Minecki said Wesley had worked for less than two years for the state-funded and county-supervised school district, including about 200 teachers in the probation halls and camps. She declined to say whether he had been disciplined prior to the alleged fight club incident, citing the confidentiality of personnel records.

[Updated 3:30 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly gave the number of teachers in the probation camps and halls as 833.]

State records show that Wesley was credentialed by the district in 2007 as a special education teacher. His credential is still valid and he has no record of discipline, state records show.

Reached by phone prior to his Tuesday arrest, Wesley said he remembered teaching at Holton for a day but said he knew nothing about students fighting during classes.

A native of Jefferson Park, Wesley said he wanted to teach probation youths to make a difference in their lives. Instead, he said he struggled to maintain control of his often overcrowded classrooms when students acted out.

Wesley said he was apprehensive about teaching at Camp Holton, where he had heard “horror stories” from colleagues about youth rioting and attacking teachers.

“It’s like you’re going into battle without armor,” Wesley said. “As long as you don’t get hurt, you’re fine.”

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Richard Winton

Read more about this case: Former probation camp teacher held in fight probe

Photo: Stephen Wesley. Credit: Los Angeles County Sheriffs Deparment

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