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Seniors Arrested for Vandalism : Tradition Goes Awry at Pacifica High

Times Staff Writer

The class of 1986 left its mark on Pacifica High School in Garden Grove early Friday.

The grads called it “senior lawn decorating,” a longstanding tradition.

Police called it vandalism, with at least $5,000 damage.

According to police and students who were there, as many as 50 graduates left in their wake spray-painted graffiti on the school’s windows and walls, uprooted trees, broken sprinkler heads, a broken water line and a flooded arboretum.

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When police arrived shortly after midnight, students were on roofs, in buildings and running across the grounds. Eight seniors, male and female, were arrested. The others escaped, for the time being.

Friday afternoon, Garden Grove police and school officials were still sorting out how many had been involved and how much damage had been done. Police said they had the names of at least 20 additional suspects and additional arrests were expected.

Pacifica’s admissions’ office was crowded with students being questioned by police.

“I don’t think it was any big deal,” one 17-year-old told a reporter. “I just think the spray painting got a little out of hand.”

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From behind his desk, Principal Tom Hoffer was explaining that he didn’t know how many students had been involved. About that time an aide peeked in the doorway.

“I think it’s easier to ask ‘What seniors weren’t involved?’ ” the aide said.

Garden Grove Police Sgt. Bruce Beauchamp said five of the eight students immediately arrested are juveniles. They were released to their parents, pending appearances in Juvenile Court. Three others, adults, were booked on felony vandalism charges at Orange County Jail on $10,000 bail.

But by late Friday, two of the adults--Jerri Dee Willett, 18, and Michelle Diane Miller, 18, both of Garden Grove--had been released on their own recognizance, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman said. Willett could not be reached for comment; Miller didn’t want to.

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“I don’t have anything to say,” Miller said. Since her arrest, she had not spoken with school officials and “had no idea” if she would still graduate, she said.

The third adult, John Thomas Fox, 18, of Stanton, was still in custody, the spokesman said. Conviction on the felony charges can carry up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Under California law, parents of minors who damage school property can be held financially responsible.

School officials have no idea how much damage results from pranks, which are not recorded separately from other vandalism. But school officials around the county said Friday that there have been few senior pranks so far this year.

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Ray Allison, manager of school police services for Santa Ana schools, said that good communication with seniors has deterred pranks. At Brea Olinda High School in Brea, pranks have been virtually eliminated because the administration has worked with students and their leaders in discouraging them, Principal Gary Goff said. For example, the school has a breakfast for all seniors “cooked and served by administrators,” Goff said.

Will Probably Get Diplomas

“When (pranks) do happen it’s usually toilet paper, and that’s about it.”

Pacifica Principal Hoffer said he did not think any of the vandalism suspects would be denied their diplomas at Monday’s graduation ceremonies. But he did think students were taking the incident too lightly.

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“They are having fun at the expense of others,” Hoffer said.

Senior Mike Sills, 18, said Friday he was among the students who massed late Thursday night in a ditch that runs north of the campus. He said they jumped a fence carrying toilet paper and political signs ripped from telephone polls. Once on the grounds they stacked tables and chairs in pyramids and on the roofs, he said.

“Every class has had this senior lawn decoration,” Sills said. “But this year, some people started ripping out plants by the library and spray painting. Something like that gets everybody in trouble.

“One thing that really disappointed me,” Sills said, “was this was senior decorating and there were juniors there. That really disappointed me.”

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