published Friday, October 18th, 2013

Bradley Central's bear vandals won't face police

Two Cleveland High School students who painted rival Bradley Central's bear mascot blue before the big game last week face discipline through the school, but the incident apparently was never reported to police.

School officials said they didn't file a police report even though state law and Bradley Board of Education policy seem to require it. At least four previous incidents of vandalism at county or city schools were reported and investigated, and charges were brought in at least three incidents.

Cleveland City Schools Director Dr. Martin Ringstaff suggested the incident was handled informally because it was a prank that caused little damage.

"I think they learned a lesson. They learned they crossed a line that shouldn't be crossed in a rivalry game," Ringstaff said Thursday.

But some upset Bradley County residents suggested in calls and emails to the Times Free Press that the youths got special treatment because one is the son of a Cleveland police officer and nephew of the city's chief of police, Wes Snyder.

"If it had been my son, I would have been bailing him out of jail," one anonymous caller said in a voice mail message.

Bradley County Schools Director Johnny McDaniel could not be reached for comment. His administrative assistant, Sammie Humphrey, said the Bradley Central principal didn't have the vandals' names and so couldn't report them to police.

But one culprit boasted later on Twitter about the Oct. 11 prank.

"It was me and Christan Noble. It was worth it," Clinton Martin tweeted Monday.

A friend tweeted back: "It's going to be fun watching C-No clean the bear, acting like he's never been here before."

Martin replied: "I'll be with him."

Noble is the son of Cleveland police Lt. Jeremy Noble, who is Snyder's brother-in-law. Noble did not return a call seeking comment Thursday. Martin's parents could not be located.

It wasn't clear when the schools learned who the culprits were. Ringstaff said he didn't know either student and doubted they got special treatment.

  • photo
    Dr. Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland City Schools

"In my honest opinion, I don't think that would ever come into play. I believe in accountability, whoever the kids belong to, just treat them fairly whatever they did," he said.

He said the principals of the two schools got together with the parents and worked out punishment for the prank -- restitution and community service.

"I think it was handled fairly and the two principals did a fantastic job," he said. At the same time, he added, officials should follow protocol. "You have to be consistent, of course."

Humphrey said there was no cost estimate yet for repainting the mascot. A private company will do the work and submit a bill, she said.

State law requires school officials "having direct knowledge of an assault and battery or vandalism endangering life, health or safety" by a student "shall report the action immediately" to whatever local law enforcement agency has jurisdiction.

The Bradley County Board of Education policy manual, in the section titled "Care of School Property," states that "all damage or loss of school property" shall be reported and investigated by school principals "in cooperation with law enforcement officers when appropriate."

In August, Bradley County Schools launched its TIPS program, an online system under which people can report problems such as bullying, weapons or drug and alcohol use. Among the reportable offenses, according to the school website, is "vandalism of school property."

According to newspaper archives, previous incidents of vandalism in Cleveland or Bradley schools included:

* February 2011 -- The Cleveland Police Department investigated vandalism at Cleveland High School's science wing, then under construction. The juvenile suspects wrote graffiti on the walls, broke light bulbs, chipped a wall and sprayed the area with a fire extinguisher. Police said they expected to file charges.

* November 2011 -- Two 16-year-olds were charged with four counts of burglary, three counts of auto burglary, two counts of vandalism over $500, one count of vandalism over $1,000 and one count of theft over $1,000 at Bradley Central High School. The burglars broke into four buildings and two school buses and did more than $8,000 worth of damage.

* June 2012 -- A report was filed with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office after someone spray-painted "USA" under the ticket window of the Fine Arts Building and sprayed a design in red paint on the band trailer. The act was caught on camera.

* June 2013 -- The Cleveland Police Department's Criminal Investigation Unit arrested four teens on charges of breaking into Cleveland Middle School and Cleveland High School. The burglars did $10,000 worth of damage and stole computers and other items worth another $10,000.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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