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Black Teen Says He Fabricated Claim of Skinhead Assault

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An African American teenager who claimed he was assaulted on Jan. 14 by three racist skinheads admitted to authorities Wednesday that he lied about the attack.

The 15-year-old reversed his story after a Los Angeles County sheriff’s detective confronted the youth with conflicting accounts of the incident.

In fact, he got into a fight with two black high school acquaintances and damaged his braces, authorities said.

“His mom put a lot of money into his teeth,” said Det. Brian Schoonmaker. “Instead of telling his mom he picked a fight and lost, he lied. He said he made up the story about the skinheads because it was believable.”

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Until the admission, sheriff’s deputies were investigating the incident as one of three suspected hate crimes in the Antelope Valley in the last two weeks.

On Jan. 14, the teen told deputies that three skinheads drove up in a brown four-door sedan, jumped out and attacked him, shouting racial epithets and “white power.”

He said the skinheads were all wearing red suspenders and shoelaces, described by Schoonmaker as “skinhead battle dress.”

“When I read the report there was some suspicion because he was very vague--he gave generic ages and descriptions, but he was very specific on dress and hairstyles,” Schoonmaker said. “It raised a flag because his description was perfect enough to name them as skinheads but vague enough to keep us from finding them.”

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Despite his doubts, Schoonmaker put out an all-points bulletin, visited possible suspects’ homes and was preparing to bring the youth into the Lancaster sheriff’s substation to look at a lineup when the boy’s friends offered different accounts of what really happened.

According to Schoonmaker, the teen confronted a youth who had been phoning his sister, and picked a fight. Another boy got involved, and the two got the better of him, Schoonmaker said.

“While he was walking home he fabricated this skinhead thing,” Schoonmaker said. “His mom called the cops, she called the hate crimes task force, she called the media. She did the right thing--she was acting on trust--but he had violated that trust.”

Although hate crimes in the Antelope Valley declined last year, the area’s reputation as a hotbed of racial conflict lingers. On Monday, a 32-year-old black man told sheriff’s detectives that he was attacked by four young men who shouted racial epithets in Spanish and shot him in the buttocks. Between Sunday night and Monday morning, vandals scrawled hate symbols on the front door of the Temple Beth Knesset Bamidbar, the Antelope Valley’s only Jewish synagogue.

Of the 10 hate crimes Schoonmaker said he investigated in 1999, “two or three of those were fabrications.”

His counterpart in Palmdale, Sheriff’s Det. Steve Lankerford, agreed that such hoaxes are rare, but they do happen.

“The media and the press sometimes jump to conclusions before the whole story comes out,” he said. “We do have isolated incidents of [hate crimes], but I think sometimes people get the misconception that we have a rash or series of these kinds of crimes. Really it’s not like that.”

Robin Toma, acting executive director of the Human Relations Board, said the Antelope Valley has a disproportionate number of hate crimes and said the youth’s admission “shouldn’t diminish the great number of genuine hate crimes in Los Angeles County, and they’re probably underreported.”

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