A school resource officer at Wharton High School was attacked Wednesday morning as he tried to investigate a reported off-campus fight among students Tuesday night.
The scuffle quickly grew to about 20 people and led to the arrest of three students, a massive response by backup officers and nearly instant news coverage. No injuries were reported.
Despite attention in recent weeks about crowding and cultural differences prompting violence at Wharton and another first-year school, Sickles High, this incident started over girls' disagreements about a boy, witnesses said.
"Kids have problems that occur in their community, and it spills over in the school," said Wharton principal Mitch Muley.
The fight broke out in the student affairs office about 7:15 a.m. Wednesday as school resource Deputy Charlie Keene was trying to identify the students involved in Tuesday's fight.
Several girls had been arguing over a boy, said Wharton student Lamia Bryant, 16, who said she witnessed both fights. They were supposed to fight Tuesday at school, Bryant said, but semester exams got in the way.
She said the "unfinished business" continued after school Tuesday at 124th Avenue and 11th Street, about a block from the school bus stop.
Four or five girls, all Wharton students, were involved in that fight, said Hillsborough sheriff's Sgt. Ron Spiller.
Shreya Stoker, 16, suffered a head injury in the off-campus fight and had to be taken to the hospital, said her mother, Sheila Stoker. "She got jumped," said Stoker, 34.
Wednesday morning, Sheila Stoker came to Wharton to find out who was involved in her daughter's attack. Keene agreed to help.
In a courtyard adjacent to the student affairs office, Shreya Stoker pointed out her attackers for Keene. One by one they were brought into the office.
At that point, the 16-year-old boy the girls had been arguing over walked by Keene, Bryant said. It is unclear what exchange Keene had with the boy, but he then tried to arrest him for obstructing an investigation, and fighting erupted, officials said.
A 14-year-old girl became loud and disruptive, causing a crowd of about 20 people to gather inside the student affairs office, according to a sheriff's news release.
Keene told the 14-year-old girl to leave, sheriff's officials said. She refused and continued yelling. The deputy tried to escort the girl out, and she jerked away and yelled at the officer, the release stated.
As Keene tried to arrest her, several students jumped on his back.
"There were kids on my back, and she was in front of me, kicking and swinging her fists," Keene said later.
He tried to stop the students with pepper spray foam. The 14-year-old girl was sprayed in the face. She started kicking and hit the deputy.
Keene radioed for backup and got plenty _ 14 Sheriff's Office units and two Tampa police cars responded. Students called television and radio stations, and almost within the hour the incident was being discussed on local radio stations.
"We want people to know what is really going on in this school," Bryant said, who made some of the first calls to news media.
Two boys, ages 15 and 16, were charged with obstructing police during an investigation, a misdemeanor. The 14-year-old girl who was sprayed with pepper foam was arrested and charged with battery on a law enforcement officer, a felony, and resisting arrest without violence. Their names are being withheld because they are juveniles.
All have been suspended from Wharton, said school district spokesman Mark Hart.
Cynthia Brown, grandmother of the student charged with the felony, said Keene's method of trying to identify students in Tuesday's fight may have heightened tensions. "He was rounding them up," she said.
Muley, the principal, defended Keene's actions, saying it was the only way officials could learn who was involved in the Tuesday incident. He reiterated to reporters at the school Wednesday that Wharton is safe.
Sheila Stoker isn't convinced. She said she is pulling her daughter out of the school.
_ Times staff writer Amy Herdy contributed to this report.