05/17/13 1:00pm
05/17/2013 1:00 PM
Federal court in Centrai Islip

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | The United States Eastern District Court in Central Islip.

Only one defendant accused in a civil rights and privacy lawsuit over an alleged illegal search in Riverhead Middle School in 2007 is still facing charges after a federal judge threw out most of the case Thursday.

Judge Arthur Spatt made his decision to toss all but one of 10 charges in the civil case after determining the district’s student search policy is not illegal.

“There’s nothing wrong with the searches set forth in this policy,” Judge Spatt said from his bench in a U.S. Eastern District courtroom in Central Islip.

Allegations of discriminatory behavior were dismissed for all defendants after Judge Spatt said the student and his mother failed to prove the school targeted black students for questioning.

That leaves only Middle School principal Andrea Pekar remaining as the sole defendant to answer to a 4th Amendment allegation involving an illegal search.

Riverhead residents Tarone Love, 21, and his mother, Marilyn, had sued the district, then-superintendent Paul Doyle, the middle school, and the Board of Education for $2 million in damages. Mr. Love, a teenager at the time, was allegedly patted down by school security and accused of selling drugs in school without “reasonable suspicion,” the lawsuit claims.

They also accused the district of searching Mr. Love, an African-American, because of his race.

District officials, including Ms. Pekar, have maintained throughout the trial, which started with jury selection Monday, that the incident never occurred.

Recalling the incident, Mr. Love testified Thursday that he had run into two friends in the hallways of Riverhead Middle School on Feb. 15, 2007.

He said he paid back the first boy a dollar that Mr. Love had borrowed, and then gave the other student $5 to pay for snacks.

Mr. Love said he was pulled out of math class the next period and taken to the school’s principal’s office, where Ms. Pekar accused him of selling drugs to students after school officials saw him exchanging money.

A security guard then allegedly patted down Mr. Love, removed items from his pockets and made him take off his boots.

Mr. Love testified that no drugs were ever found and he was sent back to class.

The alleged event left him rattled, he said Thursday, and fostered his distrust and dislike of school authority.

“I felt violated,” Mr. Love said in court. “[Ms. Pekar] made me feel guilty even though I didn’t do anything. It’s still with me, that I was singled out for no apparent reason.”

Ms. Love had testified Wednesday that her son was shaking when he returned home from school that day, tearing up from the stand as she described what happened.

“He was hysterical” Ms. Love said. “It makes me upset every time I think about it.”

While on the stand, Ms. Love was asked by her attorney why she never contacted the school about the alleged search, only reaching out to them through a lawyer two years later.

“I didn’t contact the school because they didn’t contact me [about the incident],” she said. “They should have contacted me first.”

Mr. Love said he only continued going to school because of his mother’s support, saying he was humiliated and feared his classmates would treat him differently after he was taken out of class.

But after Mr. Love testified Thursday that he had respected authority before the alleged search, John Shields, the attorney for the defense, made Mr. Love review his prior disciplinary record for that school year.

As Mr. Shields went one-by-one through a list of eight recorded school infractions from that school year, Mr. Love admitted that on four of those occasions — all before the alleged search — he had disrespected authority.

Mr. Shields also pressed Mr. Love on his age at the time of the incident. Mr. Love had said he was 13 at the time , but Mr. Shields pointed out he would have been 15 when the incident happened, according to his birthdate.

When asked if he was actually 15 at the time of the alleged incident, Mr. Love paused for a moment.

“I can’t do math right now,” he said. “My mind is too cluttered.”

Mr. Love later stated that he dropped out of high school after spending two years in the ninth grade, and never finished.

He said he “couldn’t recall” whether the incident affected his grades.

Ms. Pekar, the two security guards who allegedly took part in the search, and a then-assistant principal at the school, Stephen Hudson, all said in their testimony this week that the search never happened.

Ms. Pekar also said Thursday that had a student been searched in her school in 2007, that student would have been asked to empty his or her pockets  — but no security guard would ever have reached into a student’s pockets.

“The number one reason is safety,” she said, describing how a student could have syringes, knives or box cutters in their pockets. “I would never put myself of any of my security guards in danger.”

After both sides finished giving their evidence, Mr. Shields moved to have all the illegal search charges dismissed Thursday, saying the Love family failed to prove the district’s policies over student searches were improper, meaning the district couldn’t be blamed for any alleged incident.

The family’s attorney, Harriet Gilliam, said the superintendent and school board were ultimately liable for the alleged improper actions of Ms. Pekar,  but Judge Spatt disagreed and threw out the illegal search court actions against all defendants but Ms. Pekar.

Mr. Shields then asked to have the discrimination part of the suit dismissed as well, adding there was no proof the district had targeted black students specifically.

“There’s been no expert, there’s been no data, there’s been nothing,” Mr. Shields told the judge.

One security guard, who is black and had worked in the middle school in 2007, testified this week that he had seen black, white, and Hispanic students searched in the school.

When asked by Judge Spatt what proof Ms. Gilliam had of discriminatory behavior, she responded Mr. Love would testify that one of the boys he gave money to, a light-skinned Hispanic student, was not searched while Mr. Love and his other friend, who is black, were searched.

But Judge Spatt said Mr. Love and his mother needed proof the Hispanic student was or was not searched. Ms. Gilliam had not called either of the other two students as witnesses in the case, and had only put the black student on a pre-trial list of potential witnesses.

Ms. Gilliam answered that she could bring in those students to testify.

But Judge Spatt said it was too late.

He then threw out all of the discrimination charges, saying it was “totally improper” to call more witnesses after the trial was over, especially ones the defense team was not aware of, and had not prepared for.

“We’re not going to bring in someone from left field like that,” he said.

After court proceedings, Ms. Gilliam said in an interview she felt the district should have been held liable in this case, and that she was still hopeful Ms. Pekar would be found guilty.

“[I hope] at the very least, principals are held accountable … they can’t just do what they want to do,” she said.

Mr. Shields declined to comment about the case, saying he could not discuss ongoing litigation.

The jury will reconvene Monday morning to begin deliberations on a verdict.


05/13/13 2:00pm

The family of a former Riverhead Middle School student is alleging district officials illegally searched their son in 2007, and is seeking $2 million in damages in a civil rights lawsuit set to go to jury trial in federal court this week, according to court documents.

The suit, filed by the former student’s mother, Marilyn Love, alleges the school violated the student’s fourth and fourteenth amendment rights by subjecting him to an unreasonable search “based on his race as an African American.”

In February 2007, Ms. Love’s son — who is a plaintiff but is not identified in the complaint due to his age at the time of the incident — was pulled out of his eighth grade class by a district security guard, according to the suit. He was brought to the principal’s office, where he was accused of selling drugs in school because he was seen giving money to two students that morning, the suit states.

The student denied the claims and was searched. School officials did not find any drugs, and warned him not to sell any on district grounds, according to the lawsuit.

Ms. Love and her son claim the district didn’t have “reasonable grounds” to search him, and did not search the other student who was seen talking to Ms. Love’s son, according to the suit. That student who was not searched is white.

The Riverhead School District, Board of Education, district superintendent at the time Paul Doyle, and Middle School principal Andrea Pekar, are all named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Several others, including Angela Devito, a former school board member, appear on a list of potential witnesses in the trial.

District officials could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Love also alleges in the suit that the school did not tell her that her son had been removed from class to be searched and did not properly train employees to search students.

Jury selection in the case began at Eastern District Court in Central Islip Monday and opening statements are expected Tuesday.

The student is now 20 years old, said Harriet Gilliam, the attorney for Ms. Love and her son.

As a result of the search, the student “suffered emotional harm, mental anguish, embarrassment, humiliation, damage to his good name and reputation and loss of enjoyment of life,” according to court documents.

“I would say, certainly, it’s had a long-term effect on him as far as his outlook through school and of school administrators,” Ms. Gilliam said. “Instead of him seeing them as people who are there to help and have them provide a nurturing environment, he instead had an experience of seeing them in a different light [by accusing him and searching him]. He’s jaded. He came away having a bad taste in his mouth.”

Ms. Gilliam said there were discussions with the district and other co-defendants to settle out of court but “there was nothing really of substance in terms of any offer.”

The case has taken so long to get to trial because of various motions made by the district’s lawyers to have the case dismissed, Ms. Gilliam added.


03/22/13 2:00pm
03/22/2013 2:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Rex Vazquez as ‘Narcissus’ being stalked by ‘Echo,’ played by Evelyn Kennedy-Jaffe, during Riverhead Middle School’s dress rehearsal Wednesday of ‘Echo, Narcissus and the Duck.’

Riverhead Middle School students performed ‘Echo, Narcissus and the Duck’ at the 17th annual Roman Banquet Thursday night. The eighth-graders wrote the play over summer vacation following seventh grade. Editing of the play began in September and auditions and casting of characters began before December break.

After hundreds of hours of editing and rehearsals that began in January, the 37 students took to the stage to show off their talents.

Food at the Roman Banquet is prepared by the students’ families and served by Latin students dressed in togas and tunics.

02/01/13 7:00am
02/01/2013 7:00 AM
"HIgh School Musical' Drama Club president Sharpay Evans played by Kierra Prentiss (far left) and 'new student' Gabriella Montez played by Marissa Murgolo (second from left) in the opening scene.

“HIgh School Musical’ Drama Club president Sharpay Evans played by Kierra Prentiss (far left) and ‘new student’ Gabriella Montez played by Marissa Murgolo (second from left) in the opening scene.

After three fundraisers and four months of rehearsals, the 45 student-actors of the ‘Middle Masques’ excitedly took to the stage for their first dress rehearsal of the Disney Musical “High School Musical” Wednesday afternoon at Riverhead Middle School.

It is based on the 2006 Disney television film “High School Musical,” which was viewed by 7.7 million viewers in its premiere broadcast.

Performances will be in the Riverhead Middle School Cafetorium beginning 7 p.m. Friday. There will be a 2:30 p.m. show Saturday and 7 p.m. shows Feb. 8-9. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door for each performance.

“The students involved in this production, both on stage and behind, go above and beyond to bring you a show that promises pure entertainment,” said producer Pat Skura, Riverhead’s secretary to the assistant principal. “Putting on a live production has shown them discipline, respect and made them realize that ‘we’re alll in this together’ and they have to keep their heads in the game.”

Riverhead Middle School teacher Edward Toll Jr. is the show’s director and Nadine Grreenberg is the musical director. In prior years they presented Willie Wonka, Beauty and the Beast, Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz and Grease.

The characters are: Troy (Samuel Mancini); Gabriells (Marissa Murgolo); Ryan (Ryan Mancini); Sharpay (Kierra Prentiss); Ms. Darbus (Kamaria Harris); Coach Bolton (Daniel DiSalvo); Chad (Roy Vasquez); Zeke (Devin Pierristi) and Taylor (Ella Baldwin).

/ 9
03/25/12 5:00pm
03/25/2012 5:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Riverhead Little League wants to help refurbish the ballfieds behind Riverhead Middle School.

The Riverhead Little League will begin renovations on two ballfields at Riverhead Middle School next week to create more space for teams to play.

The new plan will include new dugouts built into the middle school baseball field, as well as new fencing, irrigation, regrading and possibly sod for both fields.

“We had met with the school district on a number of occasions, we kind of bounced around from a series of locations,” said Riverhead Little League president Tony Sammartano. “We all came to the conclusion that the best location is going to be the middle school area.”

The Little League received a worklist for the construction from the district Tuesday and will begin renovations at the softball field next week, he said. Renovations to the baseball field will begin in mid-June, after school programs have stopped using the field.

Mr. Sammartano said the 60-year-old league, which will likely have 500 participants and 28 teams this year, needs more fields. And while town officials have assured him the fields at Enterprise Park at Calverton would soon be open, Mr. Sammartano said the Little League couldn’t take any chances.

“We’ve been promised for two years that [the fields at EPCAL] would be open,” he said. “Basically we can’t wait on EPCAL anymore so now we’re moving forward.”

Funding for the new fields, which will cost nearly $27,500 to renovate, will come partially from the school district’s bond money but mostly from donations to the league.

Mr. Sammartano said the league is looking for donations of supplies to help with the construction effort.

“We’ve been doing fundraising for all of last year,” Mr. Sammartano said, adding that both fields should be completed by August and at least the softball field will be used during the 2012 summer season.

The league has also offered to open the fields up to the smaller Flanders Little League, though it’s not clear whether they would use the fields. Riverhead Little League will start its season in early April and run through early August.


04/25/11 12:45pm
04/25/2011 12:45 PM

Check out photos from the Riverhead Middle School French Club’s recent trip to Quebec City. The students toured the French-speaking city April 15 through April 18 to explore historical sites, eat French foods and immerse themselves in French culture.

/ 5

CAITLYN PETERS PHOTO | Riverhead Middle School French students tour old Quebec City.