By Patrick Yost
Seven Morgan County High School students have been both arrested and disciplined after they allegedly engaged in a gang initiation beating in one of the school’s bathroom.
According to Chief Deputy Keith Howard, Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, six of the students were juveniles and the seventh, Antonio Donnell Howell, 17, Madison was being charged as an adult.
Howard said a school administrator presented Sgt. Kevin Berisko, Morgan County Sheriff’s Office school resource officer, with two cell phone videos that allegedly show the students engaged in a “jump in” where several students pummel another as part of some initiation into their gang.
Howard, who also serves on the Morgan County Board of Education, said the videos and the “jump in” last approximately 15 seconds before the activity is halted and students hug and congratulate each other, including the alleged victim.
“The fight was a consensual initiation,” Howard said. “The initiation was a consensual fight that would grant them access into the gang.”
The fights, according to incident reports, allegedly occurred on Jan. 13. Law enforcement was given the videos on Jan. 16 and the seven students were removed from the school. The six juveniles were initially released to parents and then detained and transported to the Youth Detention Center in Sandersville. Howard said after a juvenile court hearing in Milledgeville, four of the students were released but two remain in custody based on past offenses. All six are freshman at the school, according to Dr. James Woodard, superintendent, Morgan County Charter School System. Howell is a junior at Morgan County High School.
Dr. Woodard said the students have received “maximum discipline” from the system and have been moved to the alternative school.
“At no time did HS administrators or myself feel like there was a direct threat or pervasive involvement of gang related activities within the school,” Dr. Woodard said. “did not feel like the actions of these few warranted a system level email blast to parents. At no time, did I feel the school or system was under a safety risk as a result of this incident. These were behaviors of a few which we dealt with in an appropriate manner that would be consistent with discipline matrix. The incident did involve us using the discretion of reporting to law enforcement. “
Howell, who has been charged with affray (fighting) and participation in criminal gang activity, was transported to the Morgan County Detention Center. He was released on Jan. 23 on a property bond.
The other six juveniles have all been charged with affray and participation in criminal gang activity. The affray charge is a misdemeanor, Howard said, and the participation in criminal gang activity is a felony.
Howard said the gang is named 4MG, however, he said the group was “not a nationally affiliated gang. They were a group of high schoolers that had started their own gang.”
He also praised Berisko for “his swift and definitive action by detaining and arresting everyone involved, even though we do not consider this to be indicative of legitimate gang activity.”