A large brawl, possibly involving dozens of people, which happened in Maywood in January and resulted in the arrest of three Proviso East students, has prompted concern from community members and Maywood government officials.
They wonder whether enough is being done by law enforcement to ensure the safety of the high school's students and area residents, particularly when students are off school grounds.
The incident also prompted a discussion among Maywood officials about which law enforcement agency is most responsible for keeping the peace at the high school and the area immediately surrounding it.
The fight took place near the end of the school day on Jan. 22 along Madison Street, near 1st and 2nd Avenues, according to an incident report released this month by Maywood Operations Commander Theodore Yancy.
Maywood police officers spoke to Proviso East administrators and security personnel about a fight that was rumored to happen before responding to the scene.
District 209 spokeswoman Cynthia Moreno said in a Feb. 27 phone interview that as students were leaving the school, a group of adults and juveniles, many of whom do not attend East, began following and harassing several students.
"Administration was being pro-active when they went out there to see what was going on," Moreno said. "Our students were trying to get home. This wasn't started by our students. They kind of got caught in the middle of this."
Seven Maywood police officers arrived at the scene and "moved along several crowds (20-25 juveniles in each group) of unruly juveniles congregating between 1st & 2nd Madison Street," Yancy's report reads.
"Prior to reaching the area of 4th Ave., several small skirmishes were averted on Madison St.," Yancy wrote. "As officers traveled along Madison with the large group of juveniles they were redirected to the area of 1st Ave. & Madison St. due to a citizen complaint of a juvenile with a gun."
Yancy added that "several male juveniles" ran toward a group of Proviso East students near 4th Avenue and Madison Street and a "large fight ensued." While "several juvenile offenders fled the area" as police officers tried controlling the scene, three students were arrested for disorderly conduct and mob action.
Footage of the fight reportedly surfaced on Facebook and went viral. Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins even watched some of it.
"I was shown the Facebook video and what I saw [was concerning]," Perkins said during a Feb. 20 regular meeting of the Maywood Board of Trustees. "There were three or four guys beating up a young man and no one was there to help. I mean he was being pummeled. There were officers there, I observed, but I think they must have gotten overwhelmed and dazed."
Perkins called on Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley to explain the circumstances of the fight and whether the local police department has enough resources to deal with conflicts that involve the high school.
During the Feb. 20 meeting, Talley described the incident as a "mild fight" that involved "two young men fighting over a young lady. … It was fisticuffs." The chief said that no weapons were involved.
Talley, who said the school is responsible for youth "from the moment they leave home to the moment they return," noted that the school is "adequately staffed" with security personnel, including both retired and currently employed Maywood police officers.
"East sits on [unincorporated Cook County] property and has county [Sheriff's] deputies there," Talley added, before defending how his officers handled the situation.
"Our officers are trained not to immediately go into violent situations because they can be hurt and if they're hurt, then I lose staff," the chief said. "They effectively addressed the issue. … That is successful police work."
Maywood Police Officer Carlos Patterson, who works security at East part-time, wrote in an incident report that on Jan. 26, a peace circle mediation was held inside of the Proviso East social room that involved "eight male students who fought between 4th Ave. & 5th Ave.," and their parents or guardians.
Moreno added that sheriff's deputies, social workers, teachers, a dean of students and administrators were also present during the circle.
"During the meeting each student had the opportunity to speak their peace and what they would do to change their part in the incident," according to Patterson. "As a result of the meeting, each male student was given a second chance to finish the school year at Proviso East."
The students, Patterson added, were "asked to sign contracts, which governed their conduct for the remainder of the year."
But Moreno said the contract did not entail giving each student "a second chance," because there was never the threat of expulsion or any school-related discipline considering that the incident happened off school grounds.
The contract, she said, is simply an agreement by the students not to engage in similar conduct in the future. The contract does not include any threats of punishment if the students break their agreement, Moreno said.
Maywood Trustee Ron Rivers said the village's police department is unfairly overwhelmed by security concerns related to Proviso East students. He said the Cook County Sheriff's Office should bear more responsibility for what happens at East and within its proximity.
"I live directly across the street from East and I see everything," Rivers said during the board meeting. "My concern is [that] there isn't enough Cook County participation by that being their property and it's left to [Maywood police] to sit at First and Madison [and] shepherd these kids down Madison."
Rivers recommended that the county provide more deputies in the area and possibly "a massive show of force" to prevent incidents similar to what happened on Jan. 22, which Maywood Trustee Antonio Sanchez said seem to happen more often than he would like.
"This is at least the second fight that's gone viral [on Facebook]," Sanchez said. "[The Jan. 22 fight] seemed OK compared to the one on 1st Ave. and Madison by the gas station, and that was a couple months ago."
Moreno said that fights like the one that happened last month are infrequent and not part of an established pattern. She said that within the last two years, there have been no fights at the gas station Sanchez referenced during school hours. She said she didn't couldn't specify whether any fights have happened before or after school, since the administration doesn't track that information.
When Sanchez asked Talley if the chief thinks he needs more officers during shifts, Talley said the department's transition to a new 12-hour shift structure should help increase police presence. And addressing Rivers' points, Talley said that more policing isn't the solution to the violence.
"How we address it is taking kids out fishing [like Maywood Trustee Melvin Lightford does] and engaging the kids," Talley said, adding that another solution that is already being implemented is allowing students to "see officers in a non-confrontational environment," such as when Patterson sat in on the peace circle. "It will take more of us to be involved."
Neither Maywood police nor D209 officials specified how many Cook County Sheriff's deputies are typically on campus grounds, particularly when school is starting and letting out.
When reached by phone on Feb. 27, Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin whose 1st District encompasses most of the suburbs where D209 students live, said he had not been contacted by officials in Maywood about the stated lack of Sheriff's deputies at East.
"The concern hasn't been brought to my attention," he said. "If they'd brought it to my attention, I would have communicated it to [Sheriff Tom Dart]. I communicate with him on a weekly basis. I'd let him know we need to step up patrols around East."
Boykin said the increased presence would not be difficult to execute. It would only take the redeployment of personnel. A similar redeployment measure happened after Boykin requested that Dart send in more resources to aid in the carjacking crackdown in Oak Park.
"The sheriff could adjust where he's putting the personnel," Boykin said. "What would probably happen is he could have more people in the area in terms of visibility because sometimes visibility helps to deter crime and negative behavior."