A serious beating amid Gratz’s day-to-day violence

Keenan Williams was beaten so badly inside Simon Gratz High School on Feb. 4 that he spent the night in the hospital and had surgery for a broken eye socket.

But when the Philadelphia School District police wrote a report on the melee, they described it as "disorderly conduct" - not an aggravated assault. As things stand, that means it won't be counted among the district's serious incidents when results are tabulated for the year.

It also won't be counted against Gratz when figuring out which schools are "persistently dangerous" under federal law and state guidelines. Aggravated assaults in which there is a confirmed arrest meet the criteria. Disorderly conduct does not.

School District spokeswoman Shana Kemp said Williams, 18, had not cooperated with police when questioned. If the victim doesn't cooperate, charges typically aren't filed, police officials said.

Michael Lodise, president of the school police officers union, said an incident such as this one that resulted in serious injury should not have been "downgraded."

"All those types of cases are aggravated assaults," he said.

Williams said he had answered questions at the police district and wanted his case to be considered an assault. Police said they had no record of his visit.

The day of the assault, Williams said, he was late for music class when he saw about a dozen males coming toward him on the fourth floor of Gratz. He stopped. They jumped him and started punching him in the face, he said. The attack, which occurred while classes were in session, continued until a security guard came to his aid, he said.

"I was feeling dizzy, and I started throwing up," Williams said.

Gratz called an ambulance, and he was taken to St. Christopher's Hospital. He had a concussion and broken bones near his eye. Even now, nearly two months later, Williams' eye is a bit swollen.

He said he didn't know any of his attackers by name, but had seen a few at Gratz.

He may have not known them, but the school police flash report, obtained by The Inquirer, listed two alleged attackers - a 10th grader and a 12th grader - by name. It described the brawl as possibly "gang-related" and said "there is talk of retaliation."

Williams and his aunt, Venice Gopaul, said he was not involved with a gang and did not know gang members.

Williams hasn't been in school since the attack. Gopaul asked that he be transferred to another school for his safety.

His beating was not an isolated incident at Gratz, on West Hunting Park Avenue in the Nicetown section. The Inquirer obtained internal school police incident reports for the preceding days and found a school struggling almost daily with crime; the rate has risen dramatically in recent years:


Monday, Jan. 24

9 a.m., indecent assault: A ninth-grade girl was sexually assaulted outside a classroom by a male student in her grade. According to the report, he "grabbed her and started grinding on her buttocks with the front of his body." Philadelphia police took the 14-year-old girl to the Special Victims Unit, and her parents were notified. The male student was suspended.

10:40 a.m., assault on student: A student told officials that several unidentified students had jumped and beaten him in a hallway. The senior was treated for a facial injury, and police were notified.

1:15 p.m., assault on student: The second student assault of the day occurred when a female student reported that three unidentified females had "approached her and punched her in the face and head." She was treated for swelling beneath an eye while the defendants fled the building. Police were contacted.


Tuesday, Jan. 25

12:38 p.m., disorderly conduct (fighting): A fight broke out between two students in the lunchroom. One was treated for a cut over his eyebrow. Both were suspended.

1:56 p.m., robbery of student: A female student was robbed in a fourth-floor hallway by a fellow student who fled with her wallet and identification. He also tried to take her cell phone. A police report was filed.


Monday, Jan. 31

11:45 a.m., assault on school police: Three school police officers were assaulted by a male student who didn't belong in a second-floor classroom and refused to leave. Two of the officers reported hand injuries. The student was arrested.


Tuesday, Feb. 1

9:20 a.m., theft of school tokens/TransPass: A student reported that six SEPTA TransPasses worth $90 had been stolen from her school bag.

11:26 a.m., disorderly conduct (fighting): A fight between students in a stairwell left an 11th grader with a cut finger. His mother took him to a hospital.

11:30 a.m., threats: An officer breaking up a disturbance in a third-floor hallway was cursed and threatened by a young, unknown individual who said he would "get my father to f- you up." The individual was arrested for the threats.


Wednesday, Feb. 2

12:07 p.m., trespassing: School police apprehended three students found trespassing in a third-floor hallway. One of them fled. The others were handed over to Philadelphia police.


Thursday, Feb. 3

11:40 a.m., disorderly conduct (fighting): A "large fight" erupted among six female students in the third-floor hallway. The clash left them with minor injuries. Police were not involved. The students were suspended.

1:15 p.m., disorderly conduct (disruption): A school officer responding to a disturbance in the lunchroom took a disorderly ninth grader into custody.


Friday, Feb. 4

9:30 a.m., assault on teacher: After the Williams incident, a teacher who was clearing the halls got knocked off his feet. A student had approached the teacher from the side and slammed into him, causing him to fall to the floor.

According to the report, police took the 10th-grade student into custody.

Gratz incident records from the previous, 2009-10 school year show 32 assaults on students, 13 on teachers or other employees, and 5 on school police.

As part of Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman's Renaissance schools program, Gratz will be turned over next school year to an outside operator, Philadelphia's Mastery Charter Schools.


Contact staff writer Susan Snyder

at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.