The family of a teen who was criminally charged after fighting back against an alleged bully is planning to sue a Georgia school district.
“Where are we going to be as a society if we allow this to continue?” the teen’s father, Jorge Santa, asked the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Santa’s son, 15-year-old Jorge Santa-Hernandez, was suspended from Harrison High School in Kennesaw last year and faced five criminal charges, including felony aggravated battery and felony aggravated assault, before the charges were eventually dismissed.
The victim is victimized twice, once by the bully and then by the school system.
Jorge Santa, father of 15-year-old Jorge Santa-Hernandez
Police filed the charges after the teen, then 14, fought with one of two students who allegedly bullied him on the last day of the 2017-2018 school year.
“It was clear my son had been bullied,” Santa told Atlanta’s WXIA-TV. “He was called some racial slurs, they had stolen food from his backpack and pretty much ate it all in front of him, mocking him.”
The breaking point, Santa said, was when one of the alleged bullies pulled out a can of silly string.
“He gets sprayed in the face with it and immediately jumps up and strikes the bully,” Santa told WXIA-TV. “He held him in a headlock until help arrived.”
Harrison High School employs school resource officers, but it’s not clear if they arrested Jorge, the only student who was criminally charged. In November, the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges against him. Because the case involved a juvenile, the office gave no official explanation and authorities cannot comment on the case.
However, the school accused Jorge of violating the student code of conduct, according to the Journal-Constitution.
“Jorge had options [and] he chose not to take those options,” assistant principal Art O’Neill told Santa during a meeting Santa recorded on his cellphone. “Your son had every opportunity to make the teacher aware of the harassing situation. Jorge could have wiped the Silly String off of him and gone to the teacher and said, ‘This needs to stop.’”
O’Neill did not refer to the alleged incidents leading up to the fight as bullying. He told Santa the older teens had been “picking at Jorge.”
Santa, an Atlanta police officer, disagreed. He said his son’s actions amounted to justifiable self-defense and he hired Marietta attorney Mitch Skandalakis to represent the family.
Skandalakis told Atlanta’s WGCL-TV that Jorge had no way of knowing what the other students might do after they sprayed him with silly string, and was not in the wrong when he chose to defend himself.
“That is the definition of a reasonable man put in fear for his safety for purposes of standing your own ground,” the attorney said.
The school, Skandalakis alleges, ignored state law, which requires school administrators to consider the possibility of self-defense.
“Many of the student witnesses … stated that the student who bullied and assaulted Jorge was a well-known bully throughout the school,” Skandalakis told WXIA-TV.
Skandalakis says the school district sought the “malicious prosecution” of Jorge. The attorney further alleges that the school district’s discipline records show that bullying incidents are minimized and students who fight back often receive the same punishment as the student who starts the fight.
“They just want to suspend everybody,” Santa told the Journal-Constitution of Skandalakis’ findings. “The victim is victimized twice, once by the bully and then by the school system.”
In a statement to WGCL-TV, the district said it takes bullying seriously:
“We strictly adhere to state and district guidelines concerning these issues.”
It will ultimately be up to the courts to determine who was in the right.
Santa told WGCL-TV that his son still attends the school.
“He said to me, ‘Dad, that kid already bullied me [and] I’m not going to allow the school system to bully me too,’” Santa said.