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No Charges Will be Filed in Inglewood High Scuffle

Times Staff Writer

Rather than press criminal charges against the principal of Inglewood High School for a scuffle with the school’s basketball coach last month, City Atty. Howard Rosten has called on the school district to discipline Principal Lawrence Freeman.

Rosten said in a three-page report released Monday that he reserves the right to prosecute Freeman for his “unprofessional, undignified and reprehensible” conduct if “justice is not achieved” through the school system within the one-year statute of limitations.

While he suggested that the school district could best resolve the situation, Rosten in an interview declined to recommend any specific disciplinary action. “Justice is one of those floating terms, but you know it when you see it,” he said. “If they don’t do anything at all--pretend it’s not an important event--then I would say that’s no justice.”

The conflict occurred June 6 when Freeman, known for his brash leadership style, reprimanded Coach Vincent Coombs in the principal’s office for not following an order to purchase trophies for members of the basketball team. After Freeman ordered Coombs out of his office, the coach stood in the doorway as Freeman repeatedly pushed the door against him, according to witnesses.

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Supt. George McKenna ordered Freeman off campus a few hours after the incident and reinstated him several days later when the two men met and Freeman agreed to return to work. The incident marked the second clash between Freeman and McKenna in the school year that ended in June.

Freeman’s supporters, who credit him with keeping the high school free from gang activity and for establishing high expectations for students, argue that McKenna is attempting to purge the 67-year-old principal from the district. McKenna, who became superintendent in September, 1988, has denied that he is out to get Freeman.

While Rosten’s report criticized Coombs for lacking judgment when he did not leave Freeman’s office after repeated demands by the principal, it focused blame on Freeman.

“The conduct of the coach was not criminal,” Rosten wrote. “Technically the conduct of the principal probably was.”

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Rosten said a trial of Freeman for criminal battery could go either way. But he pointed out that such a case would include “the undesirable spectacle of high school students testifying in the trial of their principal.” Several high school students were among those who witnessed the confrontation, Rosten said.

No Criminal Intent

Rosten also said the school disciplinary process could “more fully and completely” address the incident, by assessing both men’s work records and Coomb’s refusal to reward his players or leave the principal’s office.

Rosten said he found that Freeman did not have a criminal intent during the incident, but was acting in a way he thought to be within the limits of his job.

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“There are no allegations of fact which indicate that the alleged crime was committed for personal gain, or for any of the classically ‘criminal’ reasons ordinarily condemned by society through the criminal law,” Rosten wrote. “It appears that the events alleged occurred exclusively within the context of ‘school activities’ and, whether in good judgment or not, were intended to be part of the discharge of the perceived duties of the principal.”

McKenna said his investigation into the incident is winding down and his recommendation to the school board will be made in about a week. The maximum sanctions could be suspension or demotion, McKenna said, declining to indicate whether Freeman actually faces such sanctions.

If the board approves McKenna’s recommendation, Freeman could ask the board to reconsider and if it does not, would have the opportunity to appeal the decision to the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing. A decision by the state panel could take six months, McKenna said.

Freeman said in an interview this week that he wants to put the incident behind him and get on with running the high school. He said he plans to meet with McKenna and Coombs. They could not be reached for comment.

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“I’m not going to dwell on it,” Freeman said. “I’m just going to wait and see.”


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