Incident near Menlo-Atherton High School involving students and police

by Contributed Content on May 1, 2023

Editor’s note: We received the article below from Katie Doran, one of the editors at the M-A Chronicle who wrote it along with Celine Chien. She emailed: “We just published a breaking news story about an incident with the police right outside M-A on Friday [April 28]. There have been a lot of rumors and discussion of this incident among students and the larger community in our area, so we thought it might be a good opportunity for collaboration with InMenlo. We’d love to get the story published on InMenlo’s site.”

This is a developing story which will be updated as more information becomes available.

Here is an important update to the article below provided by reporters Katie Doran and Celine Chien that covers the Atherton Police Department’s response.

On Friday [April 28], police officers handcuffed two students and pinned one of them to the ground right outside of M-A. Videos of the incident have been circulating on social media, accruing thousands of views, with comments expressing both anger and confusion over what happened. The incident occurred just before 3:30 p.m. at the bus stop by Oak Grove and Middlefield.

A sibling of the student who was pinned to the ground said, “The school called the police on him, without calling my mother first. He is a minor; he didn’t physically harm anyone or deserve this. He is currently depressed, scared, and shaky. He [had] never experienced police brutality or interactions with the police. As a Black male, he thought he was going to die.” The sibling said the student was physically injured in the interaction.

Sophomore Funaki Vunipola, who also witnessed the incident, said, “We were all waiting for the bus when the cops came, and we were wondering what was going on. They pointed at [the student] and said, ‘You have to come with me.’ [He] was of course confused and mad, so he was saying, ‘I’m not going anywhere.’ The cops told the rest of us to step back, while [the student] and two others stayed with the cops.”

“They tried to put [him] in cuffs, but he felt like he wasn’t in the wrong and told the police not to touch him. Then, next thing you know, they have him on the ground, and more and more police officers start showing up,” said junior witness Mahki Tippins.

A second student was also temporarily handcuffed. Vunipola said, “They tried arresting [the first student], but before they could, one of the boys [the second student] with him said, ‘I’m not gon’ let that happen.’”

Tippins said, “I started recording for our safety. Then, [the second student] was detained because he didn’t move when he was told.”

Vunipola continued, “We all started recording and the cops tried arresting [the first student], but he started to refuse, back up, and yell, ‘You can’t take me, I’m a minor.’ That’s when they pinned [him] onto the ground, and used unnecessary force on him. They were kneeling on his stomach, and didn’t get off after [he] repeatedly yelled in pain. They then bent his arms back to make him get up, and dragged him to the police car. [He] fought back a bit, refusing to get in the car.”

Sophomore Linda Gabele said, “[He] was confused, and he, I guess, refused a little and then [the police] pushed him to the floor and two police officers held him down. [He] started saying that it hurts, but they kept on going.”

In one of the videos, the student says, “Get off me. My hernia, my stomach.” A student in the background can be heard saying, “Hold on, he had surgery.” Interviewees have also said the student recently had surgery and that this contributed to his pain while pinned down.

In one video, the student asks officers to “Call my mom,” and proceeds to yell out his mom’s phone number.

Instagram account @thahoodnews posted a clip of the incident at approximately 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, which, as of 5 p.m. on Sunday, has more than 30,000 views.

In the comment section and reposts of this video, people have speculated on what caused the incident and why the police were called. Many students, including the student pinned to the ground, claimed on social media that Administrative Vice Principal Stephen Emmi was the one who called the police.

The M-A Chronicle has reached out to M-A Administration and the Atherton Police Department. Both have yet to comment. In most cases, state law prohibits releasing minors’ disciplinary information.

In an email to students on Sunday afternoon, principal Karl Losekoot said, “What I can share is that our site administrators did call for police department support due to an interaction with a student that escalated to the level that our site team felt concerned for their safety, as there was physical contact made against one of our site leaders along with several verbal threats made towards that staff member.”

Numerous students had suggested that the incident began with a water gun that the administration had confiscated earlier in the week, which the student wanted to get back from the office on Friday. Vunipola said the student had the water gun at school this week for Senior Assassin, a competition which involves seniors trying to spray assigned peers with water. Senior Ishy Mishra, who helped organize the game, said that 108 students are participating.

Losekoot said in the email, “The rumor that our site administrators contacted the police department because a student was in possession of a water gun is false. On Friday, countless water guns were confiscated from students, and not one of those school site interactions resulted in a call for police assistance from our site administrators.”

While some comments on social media have suggested that the police may have been reacting to a toy that looked like a real weapon that the student had with him at the time, multiple interviewees have said that the student did not have the water gun with him during the incident, and that the water gun looked like a pool noodle, not a real weapon.

One anonymous student said, “I told [the student] that I got his water blaster tube taken from me, so he went to the office [on Friday] to get it back because he wanted to use it. When he went, the office was going to give it to him, but then Mr. Emmi came out and said he wasn’t going to get it back. They started arguing. Then [the student] was gonna grab it, but Mr. Emmi blocked him. They raised voices, mostly [the student], but he didn’t want to continue, so [he] walked out and left, [coming] back to us at the bus stop.”

The anonymous student continued that, after the incident, “Once Mr. Emmi came out to see what happened, the cops said, ‘You called for the disturbance in the office.’ Mr. Emmi said yes and that he would like to file a report. [The student] was already in the police car.”

Losekoot said in the email, “As educators, trained in the vocation of supporting students, the idea of calling for police department support is something that we absolutely do not take lightly. It is always the final option when all attempts to de-escalate a situation are not producing the desired result, and there is a clear threat to the safety of our students and/or staff.”

Students have reacted on social media with anger and are calling for accountability and transparency. One group of students has planned a protest during lunch on Monday in B-5. Freshman and co-organizer Nora Acosta Aparico said, “We wanted to start this protest because we want to build a safe and trusting community at M-A, and we want more people of color’s voices to be heard.”


Madeline Chappelle May 01, 2023 at 9:29 pm

I think the Atherton police overreacted and showed unnecessary force on these students.Only making these young people have less respect for authority.Teenagers question authority that’s their job.Help then by showing them respect.It works

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Quadzee May 09, 2023 at 1:01 pm

Yea, better to ignore any crimes these people make versus trying to enforce anything. The school should have tried to counsel the students after they assaulted the administrator.

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Jenny May 02, 2023 at 12:18 am

Why do people resist and not follow orders? Supposed to listen to law enforcement, otherwise it’s anarchy.

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Janus May 02, 2023 at 10:27 am

He resisted because he was confused and in pain. The people around him resisted because he was in pain and a minor, as well as not having a clear reason as to why he was being arrested at the time. It has been proven time and time again that law enforcement uses unnecessary violence against people of color, as the student was black, he was fearing that he would be killed by police brutality as many other people of color have been. You are correct that citizens should listen to law enforcement but in some cases it is okay to question “why?” as even the police aren’t perfect.

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Frances Griffin May 02, 2023 at 12:59 am

Tough calls on all sides.It sure sounds like plenty of over-reaction to go around but[so it seems at third hand] especially on the part of the police.
It seems a parent should have been called way sooner and a person trained in de-escalation should have come with law enforcement.
Sad but true-resisting arrest just makes things worse.

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Alma May 02, 2023 at 11:27 am

I saw it video before got edited. The students siblings uploaded on Facebook first After any comments she designed to erase and edit. I clearly heard the office requested the students to spread except him” pointing the male that has to be arrested 2 student standing in the sides of the trouble maker preventing the arrest, that is dos disrespectful, if the boy and red did something wrong he need to faced it. Because when shooting comes to school the community accused the law and education system of not doing anything and preventing come first. This boy not only friends decide to get involved when they should respect officer spread requests but also he resisted the arrest waving his hand around and pushing officers away . In this case even police can get hurt, if the students not fault he have to let the arrest process. ‘

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Leif Erickson May 03, 2023 at 12:34 pm

The lessons from witnessing the police murder of George Floyd have still not been learned. They shape how we view and respond to one more incident like this – we continue to expect justice and equity and deescalation training from law enforcement and from our school districts, especially for our young men of color who continue to be most at risk.

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DanM May 05, 2023 at 10:59 am

This incident as described by the police department is not accurate and many facts have been withheld from the public. More importantly, this was a alleged misdemeanor apparently and the police only responded later to attempt to coverup this excessive use of force. It would be nice and gets things resolved if the police would allow the public to see their videos from the body cam’s they are required to activate . Yet they claim that this took such force over an item not being return. Police are not above the law and if this child did anything wrong well they claim they want to file charges. The same goes for those police officers all 4 of them should be named and cases filed against them for unlawful use of force under color of authority . Why is this not the case . Different standards for different people is not justice.

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Janice Woldenberg Miller May 08, 2023 at 5:14 am

I fail to understand why the school called the police, instead of his parents. They were in no danger. I doubt that they would have taken the same action towards a rich white child. About 10 years ago, I advocated for a sweet Hispanic girl at Menlo Atherton at the request of her family. I attended two IEP meetings and met with several of her teachers. I was appalled at the treatment of this girl. My son went to Palo Alto schools, who also had a clear double standard.

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