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Wednesday, February 20 , 2019, 6:19 am | Fair 41º


Six Arrested After Major Altercation at Righetti High in Orcutt

Campus is placed on lockdown, as was nearby St. Joseph High School; some injuries reported

A student is arrested Wednesday after an altercation at Righetti High School in Orcutt. (Kyler Corral photo)

Six students were arrested Wednesday afternoon after a major altercation broke out at Righetti High School in Orcutt, where multiple law enforcement officers converged on the campus from throughout northern Santa Barbara County.

Emergency radio traffic indicated a fight that occurred shortly after 12:30 p.m. escalated into what units on scene described as a "riot."

The campus was placed on lockdown — as was nearby St. Joseph High School as a precaution— while Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies and officers from the California Highway Patrol, the Santa Maria Police Department and other agencies attempted to control the situation, according to sheriff's spokeswoman Kelly Hoover.

There were reports of injuries, but that could not be confirmed. Hoover said no one was hospitalized as a result of the incident.

Those arrested — four males and two females — were taken to Santa Maria Juvenile Hall, and booked on assorted charges, Hoover said.

Those charges include resisting arrest resulting in injury to a deputy, battery on a peace officer, battery on another student on school grounds, assault on a school employee, possession of a knife on school grounds, possession of marijuana on school grounds, and resisting and obstructing officers in the performance of their duties.

The knife reportedly wasn't used in the fight but was found on one of the students afterward, Hoover said.

She confirmed to Noozhawk that a fight broke out shortly after 12:30 p.m., which spawned at least two other fights.

"How it all started is still under investigation," Hoover said. "There's no reason at this time to believe the two different fights were associated with each other."

A school resource deputy was following up on the initial fight, when another fight broke out amid heightened tension, and a large crowd gathered, Hoover said.

Later, she explained in a news release that while school security officers were escorting the students involved in the first fight to the Administration Office, the school resource deputy observed a physical altercation beginning between two other students.

The deputy intervened and was attempting to detain the primary aggressor in that fight, but the student reportedly resisted and struggled with the deputy, causing both to fall to the ground.  

A large crowd gathered and began yelling obscenities at the deputy and throwing food, food containers and bottles at him, so he called for back-up, Hoover said.

The deputy reportedly was struck several times by items thrown at him. School security officers and administrators attempted to hold the crowd back as the students tried to converge on and kick the deputy, Hoover added.

Another deputy in the immediate area responded to the high school campus and received information about the suspects involved in the altercations. When a deputy contacted one of the female suspects and attempted to detain her, she resisted arrest by pulling her arm away and attempting to escape.

"Her friends surrounded the deputy and pushed and hit him," Hoover said a news release. "In the process of defending himself, he shoved the females away and one of the suspects was knocked to the ground."

Additional arrests are expected, Hoover said. Anyone who has information that may be helpful is asked to call the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office at 805.934.6150 or to leave an anonymous tip, call 805.681.4171.

"The investigation is definitely in the beginning stages," Hoover said, adding that deputies will work to identify other students involved in the fights or throwing items at deputies.

In addition to more than a dozen ground units, a county helicopter circled above the campus during much of the incident,  Hoover said.

"The key here was to get the crowd under control, and to establish calm," Hoover said. "The helicopter just aided in being eyes up in the air to see what was happening and to be able to communicate with everyone here if there was anything they needed to know about."

A video posted on Facebook shows several girls in an altercation with a sheriff's deputy, and one eventually is knocked by him to the ground. 

"I do know it was a chaotic scene," Hoover said, adding investigators will review the video.

"It was a very dangerous situation for these deputies," she said.

A school resource deputy and school security guards typically are on campus on a regular basis. The school has an enrollment of approximately 2,150 students, according to the website.

"The law enforcement that are here are definitely outnumbered," Hoover added. "I'm not sure what happened in that instance, but I feel confident that they were reacting to whatever was happening to them."

Parents arrived Wednesday afternoon to find the school locked down. Staff from other schools also showed up for meetings only to find out about the lockdown. 

"As parents this makes us feel good that this many people are keeping us safe," said parent Andrea Kitchen. "I'm happy to know there's no guns."

At about 1:45 p.m., several school buses responded to the campus, and students began being released from school in groups.

For those who are normally picked up, parents were instructed to retrieve their children at the Your Orcutt Youth Organization (YOYO) Hall in the 700 block of East Foster Road.

By the time they were released, students had seen the video, with one calling it "ruthless."

Many of the students were smiling as they left campus, unfazed by the lockdown and amazed by the number of law enforcement vehicles on and near their campus as parents and school neighbors milled around.  

"I wasn't scared," said Jacob VanMarkhoven, a junior.

"I just think it's ridiculous," added Eric Alvarez, a junior. "The more cops that came, the worse it got."

But not all students agreed.

"I think it's stupid they're blaming the cop," said Christina Jenne, an 11th-grader. "If he saw something, he had to handle it." 

Righetti also was locked down on Oct. 24 after a fight between two students escalated into a larger altercation.

Officials with the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District issued a statement about Wednesday's incident, saying, "A disturbance at Ernest Righetti High School that led to a lockdown today started with a fight between two female students. A second fight between two male students then ensued. During the lunchtime fights, food was thrown.

"A SRO (School Resource Officer) was struck by food and requested backup.

"Law enforcement officials responded and quickly restored order. Students were released early to de-escalate the situation."

District officials said school will be in regular session on Thursday. "Security will be increased and those responsible will be disciplined," the district statement said.

Noozhawk North County Editor Janene Scully reported from the scene.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

School buses were dispatched to Righetti High School in Orcutt Wednesday after a major altercation broke out on campus. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

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