Venice High assault arrests stun students, parents; 11th teen arrested

Steven Zipperman, chief of the Los Angeles School Police Department, discusses alleged sexual assaults involving several students at Venice High School at a news conference Friday, March 13.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

Officers arrested an 11th Venice High School student Monday in connection with alleged sex crimes that came to light last week.

The 10 other students, all boys from 14 to 17 years old, were taken into custody on and off campus Friday. They have been released to the custody of their parents, Officer Sara Faden said.

“The other individual is currently going through the booking process and may be transported to Juvenile Hall,” Faden said.


Three students still are being sought by police. When they are located they will be arrested, Faden said.

Detectives are investigating a series of alleged sex crimes that began more than a year ago and involved two female classmates. The potential penalties for the alleged offenses vary by individual. Some youths were cited and released; others were arrested and formally booked before being allowed to return home, Faden said.

The charges include sexual assault and lewd acts with a minor, law enforcement sources said.

Police have offered little specific information about the case, citing the sensitive nature of sexual crimes investigations, the juvenile status of the accused and a desire to protect the alleged victims, who are also students at the school.

Authorities have said that beginning in 2013, a group of male teenagers worked together to pressure two female classmates into numerous sex acts. Some of the incidents were coerced and others were consensual, police said.

Sources told The Times that during at least some of the sex acts, several boys were present and that they had threatened the girls with harm to their reputations if they did not comply. The sources said some of the accused were athletes who played football and basketball at the school.

LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said Saturday that sex crimes investigators have interviewed both girls “at length.”

Smith said detectives are looking into whether there are videos or photographs of the alleged assaults. Producing or distributing images of sexually explicit conduct involving juveniles is illegal, and Smith said detectives would investigate whether that had occurred.

“When this is all said and done, we may have some of that as well,” Smith said.

Students and parents at Venice High School said Monday that news about the arrests had been a topic of conversation all weekend at the dinner table and on social media.

As Inez Laval dropped off her daughter at school Monday morning, she said she was still in shock over the allegations.

She told her 10th-grade daughter this weekend to speak up if she saw or heard anything inappropriate going on at school.

“It is tragic what happened to this little girl,” she said. “That it went on for so long makes it so much worse.”

Parent Cristina Garrido said the news made her uneasy.

She said she loves the school’s academics -- one of her children graduated from the school and she has a son in the math and science magnet program -- but has questions about how officials handled the situation.

“How many incidents were there? Where was the supervision?” she said as she dropped off her son at school.

Ninth-grader Benjamin Valle said the news was all that students were talking about on social media this weekend.

Benjamin, who said he knows some of those arrested, said students are debating whether the alleged sexual acts were consensual or not.

Nearby, senior Hector Bolanos Jr. walked down Venice Boulevard toward the campus’ soccer field for a game before class.

He said the rush of police officers and reporters to the campus had been unsettling for many students.

“The school has better things to be known for,” he said.

L.A. Unified Supt. Ramon Cortines said Friday that the students’ parents had been notified and crisis counselors were on campus to assist any students.

“This is a painful moment for Venice High School and this district,” he said in a statement. “I want you to know that no sexual misconduct of any kind by students or staff will ever be tolerated in L.A. Unified.”

“We’re pouring all our resources over there ... to make sure every child over there feels safe,” said school board member Steve Zimmer, who represents the Westside school. “Our crisis team and our psychiatric social workers are on site ready to provide services to every student who is affected by this, indirectly and directly.”

Venice High has long been a microcosm of the diverse community around it, which includes a mix of rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods and areas known as centers of gang violence. In 2006, a 17-year-old Venice High student was fatally shot on campus as he tried to protect his younger brother from gang members.

The school has more than 2,000 students; about two-thirds are Latino. One of its most prestigious programs is its foreign-language magnet, which draws students from across the city.

Students with the school newspaper, the Oarsman, have begun a campaign called “Venice High School is great because...”

In describing their efforts, they wrote: “In the past few days, Venice High has been receiving a lot of negative attention. However, Venice High has award-winning programs, highly qualified teachers, and many motivated and high-achieving students. We encourage people to help promote positivity about Venice High and be aware of all the school’s achievements.”

In 2013, then-Supt. John Deasy singled out the school for its progress in improving test scores although its overall academic achievement remains relatively low.

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