HERCULES -- A growing public campaign is putting pressure on the Contra Costa County district attorney to drop battery charges against a transgender teen -- filed after a fight at Hercules High that occurred after the student had endured days of taunting and harassment by classmates.
A petition on Change.org posted Wednesday by the sister of Jewlyes Gutierrez has garnered media and public attention from around the country, said Charles Ramsey, president of the West Contra Costa school district. He questioned why the district attorney's office, which has limited resources, is pursuing a matter that he believes had already been resolved.
"People are talking about this," he said. "It doesn't seem to be fair. You're prosecuting a victim here? It seems like this is really a school issue. They took care of it at the school site."
The students involved in the fight were suspended and later apologized to each other, Ramsey said. Since the incident, there has been no further harassment, he added.
The petition by Valerie Poquiz says Jewlyes was taunted and bullied because of her gender identity. After one of her classmates spit gum in her face, Jewlyes, 16, sought help from the assistant principal, but the issue was not properly addressed, the petition states.
"On Nov. 15, 2013, Jewlyes was pushed over the edge," according to the petition. "Due to continued harassment, a fight ensued. Out of fear of physical violence, Jewlyes finally stood up for herself. Several girls who were tormenting my sister then physically attacked her. This was captured on video and shown on the news."
Deputy public defender Kaylie Simon said several people sympathetic to Jewlyes have written letters to the District Attorney's Office asking that the charges be dropped. If the district attorney decides to follow through with the charges, Jewlyes will face a misdemeanor hearing Feb. 5 -- just one week after a Jan. 29 school board meeting where trustees are expected to unveil revised policies aimed at creating safer campuses and protect against sexual and gender-based harassment.
Jewlyes said what's happening to her isn't fair.
"I was getting picked on and bullied and it doesn't seem right that I'm getting charged for anything," she said. "If anything, it seems pretty messed up. I got badly injured from this incident because there were three people against one and it really affected me. I'm still emotional about it. I don't feel safe at school."
Deputy district attorney Daniel Cabral said he could not discuss the case, including why Jewlyes was charged with a crime, because those involved are juveniles. He disputed Simon's assertion that she could speak to the press about the case because she had received permission from Jewlyes.
"The only way anyone can talk about it is under the authority of the juvenile court," he said.
A petition urging the Contra Costa district attorney to drop the charges against Hercules High student Jewlyes Gutierrez is available by visiting www.change.org and searching for Jewlyes Gutierrez.