L.A. County official calls for accountability in alleged fight club case
Expressing deep concern over allegations that a teacher arranged fights between students in a classroom at a Los Angeles County juvenile probation camp, Supervisor Mike Antonovich said Wednesday that he wants the education agency responsible for hiring and supervising the teacher held accountable.
Antonovich said he planned to submit a motion at next week’s board meeting demanding Los Angeles County Office of Education Supt. Darline Robles report back April 6 with details on the hiring and screening of Stephen Wesley, 43.
Sheriff’s investigators arrested Wesley on Tuesday for allegedly allowing and refereeing five boxing-style bouts — recorded by a security camera — during his class at Camp Karl Holton in San Fernando on Aug. 8, 2008. He's been charged with six counts of child endangerment.
Antonovich said he wanted school officials to explain to the Board of Supervisors any breaches in their hiring procedures, as well as corrective actions taken as a result of Wesley’s case. School officials said they began investigating Wesley five days after the report of the fights and that he had not been assigned to teach in the interim. He resigned Sept. 29, 2008, before he could be disciplined, said education agency spokeswoman Margo Minecki.
“While the safety and security of probation youth is a county responsibility, the screening, hiring and disciplining of teachers is the responsibility of" the education agency, Antonovich wrote in the proposed motion. “This incident raises serious concerns over that entire process, including what, if any, discipline would have been imposed had the teacher not resigned.”
Robles released a statement Wednesday saying, “The safety and well-being of our students are always a top priority for" the education agency.
“I feel sure the incident at Camp Holton was promptly investigated and properly handled to protect the safety of students,” Robles wrote. “Fortunately, each classroom had a surveillance camera in place to promote safety of students and staff. The recording from the video surveillance system helped us to take swift action in this case.”
In her statement, Robles referred to Wesley’s case as “an isolated occurrence.”
Steve Whitmore, spokesman for the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, said Tuesday that the fights apparently took place after students from rival gangs argued in Wesley’s class. Over the course of the day, Wesley allegedly permitted six youths from rival gangs to face off in his class, instructing them on rules for the fights and telling them not to bloody each other, Whitmore said.
A probation official who has seen the tape said Wesley stood inside the classroom door as students — who apparently told him that the security camera was broken — cheered on shirtless fighters. Wesley appeared to be on the lookout for passing probation staff or fellow teachers and can be heard urging the students not to tell anyone about the fights, the source said.
Probation staff monitoring video feeds saw students fighting in Wesley’s classroom late in the day, broke up the fight and then realized some of the youths had minor injuries, according to interim Probation Chief Cal Remington. At that point, they reviewed the day’s footage and notified sheriff’s investigators, Remington said.
Wesley worked for less than two years for the education agency, which employs about 200 teachers in the juvenile camps and halls.
Robles expressed confidence that the agency has “effective procedures in place to screen, hire, supervise and discipline all employees. Many of these procedures are mandated by state and federal laws, including criminal background checks for all public school employees.”
-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske
Read more about the case: Former probation camp teacher held in fight probe
Photo: Stephen Wesley, 43. Credit: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department