The parents of a Palos Verdes High School student charged in a gang-related killing reached an agreement Monday with district officials to pull their son from school to “complete his education through an off-site program,” the superintendent announced.
The agreement came after many parents expressed outrage that Cameron Terrell, who is free on $5 million bail, posed a danger to their children by attending class.
“He will no longer be a student in classrooms with students,” Superintendent Don Austin said. “We’ve been in conversation with family right from the beginning. They just reached a point where they were willing to accept the offer.”
Free on bail
Terrell continued to go to school after he was released Oct. 19 from jail on $5 million bail. Prosecutors charged him with a single count of murder and two counts of attempted murder in the Oct. 1 shooting death of Justin Holmes, 21, at 78th Street and Western Avenue.
Prosecutors allege Terrell was driving a car used in the crime. Two teenage companions allegedly got out of the car, confronted Holmes and two other men and asked for their gang affiliations. One then pulled a gun and opened fire, striking Holmes.
Los Angeles Police Department detectives arrested Terrell on Oct. 12. He is due in court for arraignment on Nov. 29. Two other teenage suspects also are charged with murder and in custody in a juvenile facility. Their names were not released because of their ages.
Although most defendants in a murder case would find it difficult to make $5 million bail, Terrell’s parents, Donald and Debra Terrell, own a home with an estimated value of $2.5 million and run successful South Bay businesses. Once their son was freed, other parents became alarmed over his presence in class amid the rumors of his alleged crime.
Austin said Terrell was not in class Thursday after news of his arrest and his alleged involvement in a South Los Angeles gang broke. He did not return to class Monday following a Friday holiday, Austin said.
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Palos Verdes High Principal Charles Park “has been working with the family since first being notified of this situation and, through his efforts, the family has accepted our offer to complete Cameron’s education through an off-site program,” Austin said.
Some details were continuing to be worked out.
“All we had asked for was a little time to work through the problem,” Austin said. “We weren’t given the time by some people.”
Last week, Austin said the district could not suspend or expel Terrell. Laws require the offense to directly affect the school in some way, and Terrell — who is considered innocent until proven guilty under the American justice system — had a right to attend class.
Residents group formed
On Monday, attorney Jeffrey Lewis said about a dozen parents forming the group Residents Against Gangs at School sent a letter to the Palos Verdes Peninsula school board asking for Terrell to be removed from campus and home-schooled, or transferred to a continuation school. He said the district was “needlessly exposing itself to moral and financial liability should any harm befall any student due to Terrell’s continued attendance at school.”
“The Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District has been silent about what steps are being taken to protect Palos Verdes children from Terrell and his accomplices,” the letter said. “While Terrell does enjoy the presumption of innocence in a court of law, there are serious safety concerns raised by Terrell’s continued attendance at school. At best, Terrell is a distraction to teachers, staff and other students. At worst, most law enforcement officers would say that allowing an 18-year old gang member suspected of a felony to attend a high school presents a clear and present danger to other students.”
Fear of retaliation
Indeed, former Manhattan Beach Police Chief Rod Uyeda, who has a daughter in the school, said he was concerned that Terrell could be targeted by vengeful gang members, including those on his own side fearing he might testify against the alleged shooter.
“You have an adult charged with first-degree murder mingling with very innocent high school kids. That is not right,” Uyeda said.
Retired Redondo Beach police Sgt. Phil Keenan, a longtime gang investigator who is also a parent in the district, said he believes Terrell posed a danger for his fellow classmates. Gang members, he said, could target the school while seeking revenge against Terrell or to silence him.
“Gangsters work on emotions,” Keenan said. “They don’t work on the intellect, and now they have a target.”
Keenan said the agreement with Terrell’s parents was “exactly what should have been done in the beginning.” He also recommended maintaining a police presence at school.
Uyeda also said he was pleased that Park negotiated with Terrell’s family “to do the right thing.”
Police presence increased
Palos Verdes Estates police Sgt. Luke Hellinga said his officers have increased their presence at the school, and were in constant communication with its staff, as well as Los Angeles police investigators for developments on the case.
“Day by day we are evaluating the situation and tailoring our presence day by day,” Hellinga said. “We are keeping our ear to the ground. We are listening to residents. We are listening to the community. We are listening to the LAPD.”
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