April 10, 2008

AISD: Student injured herself

April 10, 2008 09:19 am

AISD: Student injured herself

Hayes: Teen faces charge for false report

By Angela Weatherford

In the end, the proof was on the tape.

Athens Independent School District Sup-erintendent Dr. Fred Hayes told reporters on Wednesday a 13-year-old eighth-grade Athens Middle School student who said she was attacked over a controversial class project is seen on a surveillance video inflicting scratches on herself.

The teen, Melanie Bowers, now finds herself in trouble. School officials say they are planning to file charges against her for making a false statement to police. That case will be filed with the Henderson County County Attorney’s Office, District Police Chief Paul Redic said.

Filing a false report to police is a Class B misdemeanor. However, the punishment for Bowers could be handled differently since she is a minor.

AISD officials say they are investigating if they can hand down a punishment at school, as well. Two other students who corroborated Bowers’ falsified story may also face punishment.

“We are diligent in our investigations, and what we want is for the truth to come out,” said Hayes, who admitted school officials had questions about the veracity of the story from the beginning. “We are glad the truth came out.

“We did question the extent of her allegation,” Hayes added, “because each time she told the story it seemed to get bigger and bigger.”

The jaw-dropping flip-flop came along with a copy of a statement obtained through an open records request by the Athens Review containing a handwritten voluntary statement signed by the 13-year-old girl’s parents:

“I see that my daughter was not assaulted and put the marks on her body,” Gary Bowers Jr. and his wife, Shera, wrote. “No gang violence was witnessed and she filed a false report.”

The parents were shown the video Wednesday. Attempts to reach the Bowers family — who were said to have offered apologies to Hayes by phone — were unsuccessful Wednesday afternoon.

Melanie Bowers told school officials earlier this week 21 Hispanic students attacked and threatened to rape and kill her after seeing a poster she brought to school for a history class project. Students were asked to create a poster with a statement of political activism.

Melanie Bowers’ poster read: “If you love our nation, stop illegal immigration.”

The conflicting evidence was found on tape by Redic around 11 a.m. Wednesday, Hayes said. On the tape, Melanie Bowers is seen leaving the cafeteria walking toward the AMS office at approximately 11:20 a.m. last Friday. While walking, she held up her political poster about chest high to a group of students passing by.

A male student then walked up behind Bowers and took the sign way from her. Bowers ran after the student, who ran into the gymnasium. Melanie Bowers then passed several teachers — not approaching any of them in a distraught manner, according to Hayes.

She then entered the school office with two other girls. They approached Assistant Principal Mark Castleberry and told him a boy had taken the poster. Hayes said Castleberry told the students to hurry to class and told them he would investigate the issue. The girls were seen leaving the office a few seconds later.

The tape then shows Melanie Bowers in the hallway scratching her face, arm and neck. However, the tape never shows the girl being assaulted.

Hayes said Bowers had a “slight rash on her arms and neck” when a district police officer photographed the injuries last Friday.

On Tuesday, three students involved in the incident were given in-school suspension. Hayes said one student was suspended for destroying the sign, and two others were suspended for inciting the first student.

“It’s what we would do to anybody who destroys a project or takes a book or something like that,” he said.

He added he met with “several Latino parents” about the incident before Wednesday’s press conference. He said those parents were “concerned,” but also “supportive and understanding.”

The suspended students were scheduled to be allowed back to class Thursday.

Bowers hasn’t been to school since Friday, April 4 — the day of the alleged assault. Hays said she was on campus Tuesday to take the Texas Assessment of Skills and Knowledge test in an alternate location.

Hayes said the district was assisted by the Athens Police Department in reviewing statements and surveillance video. Athens Police Chief Buddy Hill and City Administrator Pam Burton were on hand at Wednesday’s press conference.


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