06/02/04 — Woman defends actions at graduation

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Woman defends actions at graduation

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 2, 2004 2:02 PM

A Dudley woman arrested Friday night after being denied entry into graduation ceremonies at Spring Creek High School says she was disappointed but not disorderly about not being allowed inside to see her nephew graduate.

School officials say the problem stemmed from a miscommunication that resulted in several people not being allowed into the gym after ceremonies began.

A hearing was scheduled today in district court for Connie L. Waddell, 38, of Beaver Drive, Dudley, who was charged by Wayne County Sheriff's Office with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The report said she used abusive language, agitated others to commit violent acts, and refused to leave the area. She also allegedly tried to flee from the deputy as they walked to his patrol car.

Ms. Waddell said she was more distraught than disruptive, and that she was misrepresented in accounts of the situation.

She said that she set out to attend the ceremonies of her nephew, Michael Barrow, who lives with her family. She said that six family members arrived on time to the school and had tickets for the 6:30 p.m. ceremonies.

"We got there at 6:15 or 6:20," she said. "I thought we had left in plenty of time to get there."

But upon arrival, she said, they were first directed to go to another door, then led down a hallway by a school staff member, along with several others. Upon arrival to the gym, though, she said, deputies informed the group that no one else was allowed inside.

"Everybody was upset," she said. "Then one lady came into the hallway and said the band was playing, but we could go ahead in."

She said the deputies again stopped the group.

"They said Mr. Clingan (Spring Creek principal) said no one was going in and don't let anyone else in unless he came out and told them," she said.

Ms. Waddell said she came to the conclusion that her family was not going to get inside the gymnasium.

"I ended up leaning against the wall, talking to a deputy, pouring my heart out," she said. "I was more hurt than I was mad. I wanted to see Michael walk across the stage by himself."

About that time, two other deputies left the gym, she said, and one told her she had to leave. A debate ensued and she said she would not leave.

"He told me I would have to go to jail," she said, adding that he then handcuffed her and escorted her to a patrol car.

She said the sheriff's report made the incident sound as though "I just got ugly and they had to lock me up."

She says she did not resist arrest or try to get away from the deputy. She said she had recently injured her foot and would not have been able to run away.

She admits she pulled her arm away from the officer because the handcuffs were too tight. Ms. Waddell said she was given the option to have the handcuffs removed and be released from custody in lieu of going to jail, if she would leave the school property. She refused, she said, because she was still intent on being at her nephew's graduation.

"Michael was the first one to graduate out of my whole family," she said. Her daughter graduated that following day from Southern Wayne.

She added that Michael, a football player and this year's homecoming king, nearly lost his life in a car accident on Feb. 24. He was ejected from a car in which he was riding and had to be hospitalized for several days. He was also unable to walk for a time after the accident.

Ms. Waddell was placed under $1,000 bond and stayed in jail for two and one-half hours. The rest of the family stayed behind until the graduation concluded.

"If I have to go to jail or probation, I would do it again because they took something away that I cannot get back," she said. "The school offered me a video, but you can never put back what you took away from me.

"I just hope this never happens to anybody else ever again."

Steve Clingan, principal at the school, was on stage when the incident occurred. He said the first he heard of it was when a deputy approached him during the senior processional.

"I didn't have time to go into an in-depth discussion," he said. "But he told me there was a group of people in the hall that wanted to come in."

He said he told the deputy that no one could come in, which likely led to the miscommunication.

"We did state that there would be nobody coming in during the processional," he said. "I didn't necessarily mean that they couldn't come in at all."

School officials later tried to tell the deputy that the people could be allowed in, but at that point, it was too late for Clingan to be involved in handling the situation.

Clingan said at one point during the ceremonies, he noticed that a half-dozen people came into the gymnasium and stood toward the back. He believed them to be the same group and thought that they had been admitted.

"I was sick to my stomach when I found out that they couldn't come in to see their student's graduation," he says now. "I felt bad and I still do."

He said he made attempts to talk with as many of the affected family members as possible and offered a free copy of the video to some who had missed the event.

"I'm just as sorry as I can be," he said. "I tried to apologize the best I could to those I saw in the hallway."

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