The sixth-graders kept bickering, but it was the older boy's final retort that set the 11-year-old off.
"Black people should live in the street!" the 12-year-old said, according to a police report.
"That's it!" the younger boy said before charging the 12-year-old and shoving him out of his seat to the floor. His desk fell with him, a corner of it slicing the first knuckle of his left middle finger.
The 12-year-old boy didn't see a rush of blood — he saw bone.
More than a year after the January 2017 incident at Safety Harbor Middle, the classroom confrontation is the subject of a lawsuit against the younger boy, his mother and the Pinellas County School Board.
The boy who was hurt still has his grip, but his lacerated finger is permanently hooked following a six-month recovery. He has since turned 13.
In the Feb. 28 lawsuit filed by his mother, Julie Adrian, he is identified only as "E.A." The claim seeks damages from the school district and from the younger boy, claiming the district did not properly supervise the situation and failed to mete out discipline.
A description by Safety Harbor Middle's school resource officer, Pinellas County Schools Police officer Shane Lind, differs from the accounts of Adrian's attorney, Chelsie Lamie, and substitute teacher Matthew Arietta, who witnessed the incident.
Lamie wrote in an email that Arietta was present while the younger boy and another student were throwing ballpoint pens at E.A. She said E.A. asked the two boys to stop while Arietta did nothing. She said the attack was unprovoked and said her client's son did not make a racial comment.
"The two boys continued to verbally attack (E.A.) and again, the substitute did not step in," Lamie wrote. "Shortly thereafter, that is when the attack that permanently disfigured his finger occurred."
Arietta did not mention the racial retort in his handwritten witness statement. He declined to comment for this story.
Lamie said that, although the younger boy was suspended and told to avoid E.A., he remained at the school and continued to harass E.A. Adrian requested a stalking injunction to get the younger boy transferred.
"We fear for (E.A.'s) safety in unsupervised areas," she wrote. She also wrote that the younger boy had previously received discipline referrals related to anger issues and had shown no remorse.
A judge denied the injunction, writing "one incident does not rise to the level of stalking."
Lind, the deputy, wrote in an incident report that it "was apparent" the younger boy was remorseful, showing emotion and shedding tears. The boy told the deputy he gave the shove after his classmate offended him with a racial remark. The boy also told the deputy he did not want to be like his father, who is serving a long prison sentence, and asked if he was going to be arrested.
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The younger boy was not arrested but was charged with felony battery by the State Attorney's Office. According to Lamie, the boy pleaded guilty but an agreement was made between the boy, his family and the State Attorney to dismiss the case after he successfully completed a diversion program. Referencing information from the State Attorney, she said the younger boy may now live in Orlando with grandparents.
The boy's mother could not be reached for comment.
School district spokeswoman Lisa Wolf said the district had not been served with a complaint but was aware it had been filed. She declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Colleen Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.