Three teenagers, all former Mesa Middle School students, were arrested in connection with a vandalism, burglary and hate speech crime that happened in early April at the school.
The juveniles, who were not identified, were booked into Juvenile Services Center in San Luis Obispo late Monday on suspicion of hate speech — a misdemeanor — and burglary, vandalism and criminal conspiracy — all felonies — according to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department.
None of them has a prior criminal history, according to officials with the Sheriff’s Department.
Detectives spent three weeks investigating the vandalism at the middle school after graffiti, including a swastika, targeting racial and ethnic groups was written on whiteboards in several classrooms in the middle of the night.
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Sheriff’s department officials said Tuesday that the two 15-year-old boys and one 14-year-old boy spent the night in Arroyo Grande on April 2 and allegedly broke into the school to damage the facility around 1 a.m. while on a walk.
Detectives, who say that the boys gained access to a quad of classrooms by popping out a window, were able to track the crime to the three teenagers with information gathered by the school’s resource officer, Dale Anderson.
Sheriff Ian Parkinson said Anderson, who works for the Sheriff’s Department, was integral in helping solve the case because of his relationship with the students.
Investigators say the incident is not related to the cross burning in Arroyo Grande on March 18, which is being investigated as an arson and hate crime.
Representatives of the Santa Maria/Lompoc NAACP and Santa Barbara/ Tri-Counties Anti- Defamation League commended the Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday for its diligence in pursuing the case and making the arrests.
“It’s a shame that such young kids committed such a heinous act as a hate crime,” said Kerry Brooks, second vice president of the local branch of the NAACP. “It had a huge impact on the community, and now it is important that the community step up and say, ‘No more, this is not acceptable,’ and that messages of hate will not be tolerated.”
Mesa Middle School Principal Jeff Martin said conversations about how the school site might beef up security on campus are still ongoing with district administrators.
During the day, staff is vigilant in making sure the school is secure and a sheriff’s deputy works on campus as the school resource officer.
After hours, the buildings are locked. Martin declined to discuss whether or not the school has security cameras.
“It’s reassuring to me that we were able to bring this situation to a close and find those responsible,” he said. “My hope is that something good can come out of this by showing our solidarity — that there is no place for hate in our community.”
Brooks said preventing such crimes is a learning process.
“People need to be more educated on hate crimes,” Brooks said. “They need to not be taken lightly, and parents need to be more vigilant about what their kids are doing.”