Lawyer seeks dismissal of graduation charges

The people arrested for cheering at Fort Mill High School's graduation ceremony aren't ready to stop making noise.

Five of the six people arrested and charged with public disorderly conduct have asked to plead their case to a jury, city officials confirmed Thursday. The attorney representing the five, Harry Collins of Rock Hill, said he plans to file a motion to dismiss the charges before the cases reach a courtroom.

"These people are innocent," Collins said. But he added that bringing the cases, to be tried individually, before a jury would be his clients' next step if charges are not dropped.

The five individuals are Matthew Jones Sterling, 21, of Fort Mill; Jamie Ellen Hill, 24, of Knoxville, Tenn.; Nathaniel Hill, 21, of Tega Cay; Robert Anthony Massey, 42, of Clover; and William Eric Anthony Massey, 19, of Fort Mill.

The other individual arrested at Fort Mill's ceremony, Joseph Anthony Reiriz, 21, of Fort Mill, will appear before a judge in Rock Hill municipal court June 24.

Eight people were placed in police custody at Fort Mill, York and Northwestern high schools graduation ceremonies early this month. They were charged with public disorderly conduct after police say they cheered during the presentation of diplomas. The ceremonies were at Winthrop Coliseum, rented to host the events.

Collins, a former city prosecutor, said he believes the charges against his clients should be dropped because their actions do not violate any disorderly conduct statutes. He said the disorderly conduct law applies to people using foul language, being grossly intoxicated in public or exhibiting obscene behavior.

"It doesn't encompass making a cheer or saying, 'hurrah' once or twice," Collins said. "If they did anything wrong, it was violating a school policy. ... They didn't break any laws."

Rock Hill Police spokesman Lt. Jerry Waldrop said the department stands by the decisions made by its officers to arrest the individuals.

"It's up to the court now. It will have to decide that," Waldrop said when asked to respond to Collins' claim that the suspects didn't break any laws.

Jonathan Kennan Orr, 21, of McConnells, who was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct at York Comprehensive High School's commencement, and Perry Allen Brandon, 37, of Rock Hill, who was cited for disorderly conduct after cheering for his daughter at Northwestern High's ceremony, will appear in court later this summer. It is unknown if they will enter a plea or join the others in requesting a jury trial.

In each case, the individuals cheered for a graduate and were taken into custody by local law enforcement, working security at the event at the request of school officials. Matthew Jones Sterling also is charged with resisting police after he tried to pull away from an officer trying to handcuff him at the Fort Mill High event, according to police reports.

School officials have contended the arrests were justified because all graduation attendees were warned that outbursts during the ceremony were strictly prohibited. A designated time for cheering was provided at the end of each ceremony.