School officials and the police chief disagree over whether a student fight involving weapons this week was gang-related.
Police say a fight involving a group of students Wednesday at Chaska High School was caused by "gang friction." But school officials, led by Superintendent David Jennings, say police are using inflammatory language to inaccurately describe a fight between teenage boys.
Eight students have been charged with offenses ranging from assault and riot to possession of a dangerous weapon on school grounds. Pending further investigation by the school, the students face discipline ranging from suspension to expulsion.
Chaska police said the fight broke out after a student flashed a gang sign, but school administrators said Friday that the fight started over "someone's girlfriend, someone's iPod and too much machismo among teenage boys."
"That's completely false," Chaska Police Chief Scott Knight said Friday. "It either borders on incompetence or is an outright lie. I just don't get it," he said.
School officials took issue with the Police Department's urgency to release details about the fight, and both sides traded views Friday about a weapon found on a student and the involvement of gang activity in the fight.
"Video from school cameras show it was not a push-and-shove thing," Knight said Friday. "One kid is down being kicked and stomped." In his weekly newsletter Wednesday, Knight wrote that "gang friction was a contributing factor" to the fight.
The fight broke out about 8 a.m. in the cafeteria commons, where at least 100 students were gathered, said school resource officer Trent Wurtz. Some of the students involved in the fight were treated for minor injuries.
But Principal David Brecht said Friday, "As the altercation became more heated, a gang sign was used, and that probably fueled or contributed to the issue, but I don't believe it started it."
Police first reported that one student had a knife, but no one was stabbed.
That account was "precipitous, and his language was unnecessarily inflammatory," said Jennings, who first learned about the fight when a story ran in the newspaper Thursday. "And I don't think that was fair to the kids or the district."
The investigation revealed the weapon found was a corkscrew with a blade that's used for cutting foil. The student never brandished the corkscrew, school officials say. "It happened to be in the kid's pocket and was found when he was asked to empty his pockets after the fight," said Jennings.
Police are accusing the school of downplaying the weapon.
"So if I bring an ax into school, it's just to cut down a tree?" Wurtz said.
School officials aren't denying that there's gang-related activity at the high school. Jennings said he doesn't want to downplay the seriousness of the situation, but the emphasis on the fight being gang-related was "overplayed."
It's not clear whether any of the students involved in the fight are in gangs.
Chaska High parents received an automated phone call the day after the fight explaining what happened. Many were concerned about gang activity at the high school.
"I wouldn't say it's an overwhelming problem, but there's a presence," Wurtz said. "We do have gang members who live in our community and that go to our schools."
Chaska is not an unsafe high school, police said, but it's dealing with what many other suburban schools and areas have to face. From time to time, there's a spike in gang-related activity, whether it's writings in notebooks or gang signs being flashed.
"There have been issues in the past," Wurtz said. "Not necessarily prominent ones, but nothing like this."
Aimée Blanchette • 612-673-1715