MONROE — The father of a Monroe High School student was charged Tuesday with a hate crime in connection with a racist incident at the school in November.
William Cunningham, 39, is accused of threatening and repeatedly spewing racist slurs at a Black high school student who his daughter and her boyfriend were arguing with.
According to charges filed in Snohomish County Superior Court, the Nov. 10 episode started when Cunningham’s daughter, who is white, shoved a friend of the Black student in the hallway. Her boyfriend reportedly told them “to take it outside.”
Later, the Black student, 16, confronted the girl and her boyfriend in the school parking lot. The three of them threatened to fight each other, according to charging papers. As shown on video that circulated on social media, the girl repeatedly used a racist slur, escalating the situation.
At one point, the Black student went toe-to-toe with the boyfriend. The boyfriend reportedly pushed him; he grabbed the boyfriend’s shirt. He thought he was going to get punched. They shoved each other. As they grappled, the girl yelled for her boyfriend to “smash his (expletive),” according to court documents.
The girl then hit the Black student in the head with a water bottle, video shows. She claimed the Black student “put hands on her.” The video does not back up that claim, deputy prosecutor Kirk Mahjoubian wrote in the charges.
The three then separated. But the confrontation reignited when the girl approached the Black student again as he talked with friends, according to court papers. She reportedly had her phone out and said “this is him.” The boy heard an unfamiliar voice on the phone.
She later put the phone on speaker next to the Black student’s ear. The voice on the line belonged to her father, Cunningham, according to the charges.
Citing video evidence, prosecutors allege he said he was “going to (expletive) all you (N-word) up” and “if I see you I’ll kill you.”
The girl asked if the Black student heard him.
“He said he’s a white cracker and he’ll (expletive) all you (N-word) up. You want to act ignorant?” she said, according to court records. Addressing her boyfriend, she added, “My dad says you got something metal in the car smack that (expletive) in his mouth right now.” She also reportedly said more racist slurs.
In a statement Wednesday, the district said, “We are horrified that someone, especially an adult, would threaten one of our students in this way. There is no place for hate in the Monroe School District and we will take action to remove access to school sites for anyone who threatens students and staff.”
In a police interview, Cunningham acknowledged he made the threats and said the slurs.
After the confrontation, the Black student was visibly upset. His mother, Stephanie Holliman, drove to the school to get him.
In that moment, she told The Daily Herald in November, “I’m crying and I’m emotional because a hate crime was happening to him.”
The alleged harassment didn’t end there. In late November, Cunningham, his daughter and her boyfriend went to the Black student’s workplace and followed him around for 20 minutes before leaving when Holliman got there. A coworker reportedly told him they’d been coming for three days straight.
The next day, Cunningham called the detective who interviewed him. He asked if it would be considered harassment if he went to the boy’s job, according to court documents.
Because of the incidents, the student has withdrawn from the high school, his mother has said.
Tuesday’s criminal charge is the latest development in a conversation about racism in Monroe schools. Since the November incident, families of color have come forward with their stories of how they’ve been treated in Monroe.
A student-led survey presented to the school board last January found a majority of respondents experienced racism in the district. Most of those students didn’t report it to school leaders, citing a lack of trust in staff and not enough representation in leadership. Those who did report incidents often said they felt unsafe after doing so.
The Black student and his mother said this wasn’t the first time he’d been subjected to racism in the school district.
Last month, students walked out of class and families rallied outside of the district’s administration building. Some called for Superintendent Justin Blasko’s resignation.
The reckoning led to Blasko being put on administrative leave last month. He’ll be subject to a third-party investigation to look into his handling of racist bullying in the schools and allegations of a toxic work environment.
And in June 2020, a school board member resigned after a video surfaced of his daughter using a racial slur.
Starting this month, the district is working with an equity consultant, Bill de la Cruz, to improve inclusion in Monroe schools. The consultant answered questions from parents in a video conference Tuesday evening.
“My hope is that as we move forward together that we can start to have these conversations and realize that, systemically, a lot of things have to change,” de la Cruz said in the meeting.
Prosecutors didn’t object to Cunningham staying out of custody, as long as he attends court hearings.
His arraignment is set for Jan. 19.
Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.
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