St. Paul Central High student pleads guilty to lunchroom melee
ST. PAUL - A 16-year-old student pleaded guilty Friday to assaulting a teacher in a lunchroom melee this month at St. Paul's Central High School but denied witnesses' claims that he celebrated afterward.
ST. PAUL - A 16-year-old student pleaded guilty Friday to assaulting a teacher in a lunchroom melee this month at St. Paul’s Central High School but denied witnesses’ claims that he celebrated afterward.
Fon’Tae O’Bannon told Judge James H. Clark Jr. in Ramsey County Juvenile Court that he was breaking up a fight between his 15-year-old brother and an older boy Dec. 4 when science teacher John Ekblad grabbed him from behind.
O’Bannon said he and Ekblad crashed into a trophy case in the ensuing struggle. He said he then turned and pushed the teacher and went to search for his brother.
He said that when Assistant Principal Mark Krois grabbed him, he pushed him as well.
“I was angry at the fact that I was the one being grabbed when there was a fight that was happening and no one was stopping that,” said O’Bannon, a junior.
O’Bannon also admitted that he pushed a school resource officer when he went to look for his brother.
But when Ramsey County prosecutor Jill Fedje said five school employees saw him choke Ekblad and throw him on a table, the teenager said: “I don’t recall that.”
O’Bannon also denied high-fiving his brother after finding him in the attendance office.
When Fedje asked O’Bannon if he told his brother he “slammed that white-ass teacher on the table,” defense lawyer Diane Dodd objected and the judge stopped the interrogation.
O’Bannon pleaded guilty to felony third-degree assault causing substantial bodily harm, gross misdemeanor fourth-degree assault and obstructing the legal process.
Dodd said there was no plea agreement. “This is what Fon’Tae would like to do,” she said.
O’Bannon, who had been in custody since the fight, was released to his parents on house arrest and electronic monitoring.
The judge said he could not return to school and must have no contact with Ekblad or Krois.
A juvenile sentencing hearing was set for Jan. 5. The judge said he’ll consider any disciplinary records from the three high schools O’Bannon has attended.
Fedje said Ekblad was hospitalized with a head injury and has suffered headaches and constant nausea since the fight. Krois suffered a bruised neck.
Since the incident, St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Valeria Silva has promised to give more support to schools when they enroll new or administratively transferred students.
St. Paul Federation of Teachers President Denise Rodriguez cited Ekblad’s injuries in a Dec. 8 letter announcing the union was seeking mediation over teacher contract negotiations. The union and school district disagree about how to address concerns over school climate and safety.
Silva said recently that the district handed out 1,015 suspensions during the first quarter of this school year. That’s more than double the number from fall 2012, when the district began to take a more lenient stance on disruptive but nonviolent student behavior.
By Josh Verges, St. Paul Pioneer Press