Assault Charges Filed in Attack on Girl; No Race Crimes Included

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Orange County prosecutors Tuesday filed assault and weapons charges against two white men, a white juvenile and a black man involved in a street fight last month that resulted in near-fatal head injuries to a 15-year-old black Garden Grove girl, but ruled out any racial motivation behind the incident.

The attack on Amber Jefferson, a cheerleader at Santiago High School, has become a centerpiece for local civil rights activists who have accused authorities of foot-dragging during the investigation.

Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi, speaking at a news conference, harshly criticized such community leaders for making the attack a racial issue.

"It's a shame that various sources will express themselves without being privy to the facts," Capizzi said. "It's easy to comment and make statements that border on hysteria and get the community upset, but which have no factual basis."

Later Tuesday, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Carol Sobel, representing the Jefferson family, criticized the outcome of the case.

"We are very disappointed that no race crimes have been charged and that (one) of Amber's friends has been charged," she said. "I have read the D.A.'s account of the events and we simply do not agree with them."

Amber was injured after midnight on Aug. 7 when she and friends returned to a condominium complex in Stanton, where she was staying with a friend. A white girl in her group confronted another white girl, and the two argued. Suddenly, two young white men appeared with baseball bats; some of the blacks with Amber grabbed 2-by-4 boards, and a fight broke out. Before it ended, 12 people were involved.

The left side of Amber's head was split open by a shard of broken glass. Surgeons had to wire her jaw shut because of the injury. Amber's family learned from doctors who operated on her for more than 10 hours that her head injuries were almost fatal.

When the Sheriff's Department presented its investigation to county prosecutors two weeks ago, it listed hate crime violations as "possible charges that may be considered."

After a thorough review of the state's race hatred statutes, prosecutors decided against filing such charges.

The only one of the four to face felony charges is a 17-year-old white youth, who was not identified because of his age. He is accused of throwing the glass that split the left side of Amber's head.

The youth, who has been in custody on a probation violation since shortly after the incident, faces charges of mayhem, assault with a deadly weapon, infliction of great bodily injury and battery.

Also charged was his father, Earl Wimberly, 42, accused of misdemeanor assault and exhibiting a deadly weapon. A third white charged is Trevor McClure, 21, accused of exhibiting a deadly weapon and challenging to fight. The only black charged was Louis Jones, 19, a member of Amber's group, who is accused of fighting in public and malicious mischief, both misdemeanors.

Capizzi said that while some racial slurs were made by some of the whites against the blacks, "it did not escalate" to the level of a violation of the race hatred statute.

"Racism was not the cause of the fight or of Amber's injuries," Capizzi said. He characterized the incident as "a street brawl" that started with two white girls fighting over a boy.

Capizzi said one of Amber's friends said he had been encouraged by others in the group to claim the incident was racially motivated because he could make money from a lawsuit.

Capizzi also said Amber's group had been drinking in a motel earlier that night and returned to the complex specifically to confront the other side in a fight.

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