By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Update: Jeremy Marks made it home on Dec. 23. Photo of him reuniting with his mom is here.
On Dec. 2, Jeremy Marks, a Verdugo Hills High Schoolspecial education student, was offered a new plea offer by the L.A. County District Attorney: If he pled guilty to charges of obstructing an officer, resisting arrest, criminal threats and "attempted lynching," he'd serve only 32 months in prison.
That actually was an improvement from the previous offer made to the young, black high schooler — seven years in prison.
The D.A. then handed Angela Berry-Jacoby, Mark's lawyer, a stack of 130 documents, and the message within those thick files was clear: She says District Attorney Steve Cooley's prosecution team plans to try to discredit Marks, and several other Verdugo Hills High School students on the witness stand, by dragging out misbehavior incidents from their school records over the years.
Marks, 18, has been sitting in Peter Pitchess Detention Center, a tough adult jail, since May 10. Bail was set at $155,000, which his working-class parents can't pay to free their son for Christmas. His mother is a part-time clerk at a city swimming pool, his father is a lab tech.
The first thing to understand is that Jeremy Marks touched no one during his "attempted lynching" of LAUSD campus police officer Erin Robles.
The second is that Marks' weapon was the camera in his cell phone.
The third is that Officer Robles' own actions helped turn an exceedingly minor wrongdoing — a student smoking at a bus stop — into a state prison case.
The altercation that has ruined Marks' life occurred in early May at a Metro bus stop on a city street a few blocks from Verdugo Hills High School as about 30 kids were waiting to board a bus.
Witness accounts say campus police officer Robles challenged an unnamed 15-year-old for allegedly smoking — it's unclear whether he was smoking or just holding what has been variously reported to be a cigar, cigarette or joint.
When the 15-year-old resisted, Robles grabbed and shoved him, according to eyewitnesses.
In Robles' sworn statement, she says she pulled the resisting boy to the ground as other students shouted "Fuck you!" and Marks called out the name of the gang Piru Bloods.
Robles testified that the minor who allegedly was smoking "is screaming, 'Hit me, fucking bitch, hit me, you stupid bitch, hit me, you dyke!'" When that boy turned his body and possibly elbowed her, Robles says, "That is when I did strike him," with her expanded baton, "about three times in the left leg."
She further stated that she sprayed him with pepper spray. The kid then hit her hand, she dropped her pepper spray can, and another student grabbed it off the ground.
Students and Berry-Jacobs allege to L.A. Weekly that Robles then slammed the student’s head against the bus window — a violation of numerous police policies. After that, several stunned students got out their cell phone cameras to record what was unfolding.
Robles struck the 15-year-old's head on the window so hard, eyewitnesses tell the Weekly, that the window was forced out of its rubberized casement and broken.
Robles has changed her story in documents obtained by the Weekly, as she describes which student allegedly called out, "Kick her ass!" — the phrase at the heart of Cooley's case against Marks, and the basis of the “attempted lynching” charge against him.
But student videos of Marks doing his own cell phone taping tell a different story.
Two YouTube videos show Marks in a grayish shirt, getting out his cell phone as he stands in the background of the scene near a student in a white shirt.
Marks tapes the final minutes of the MTA bus stop altercation as several students — not including Marks — loudly and repeatedly taunt Robles.
The videos appear to show that Robles had little ability or training to handle razzing from angry high schoolers. She holds the 15-year-old against the MTA bus as he repeatedly tries to slap and push her hands off, and she never appears to have him fully under control.
She turns several times to look behind her at rowdy students, several feet away on a low wall, who jump around and cheer for the student Robles is grasping.
The videos show the loudest and angriest student in a black shirt and sweatpants rushing a few feet toward Robles more than once, and another student in a striped shirt moving toward her — but not Jeremy Marks.
In the videos, Marks, in his grayish shirt, can be seen speaking once. He never joins the extended taunting or picks anything up off the ground.
Testifying at a preliminary hearing over the summer, Robles acknowledges she doesn’t know who grabbed for her fallen pepper spray, or even why fellow Officer Gilbert Rea decided to pin it on Marks in the incident report submitted by campus police, which Robles did not write.
Her preliminary hearing testimony also reveals the chaos during which Robles now claims she is certain it was Marks — who student videos show standing out of her line of sight most of the time — who yelled, "Kick her ass."