Fort Mill Times

Grad arrests get national attention

The seven people arrested for cheering at area high school graduations - including Fort Mill's - are fodder for news and debate on Web sites, newscasts and blogs across North America.

Since a story appeared online about six people being removed from the Fort Mill High School graduation in handcuffs Saturday, June 7, and a seventh arrested at York's commencement the day before, the news has appeared in outlets from Canada to San Diego.

Fort Mill School District officials confirmed they have been contacted by TV programs "Inside Edition" and "Good Morning America," and radio stations in Mexico and Canada, all wanting information about the incident.

Among those arrested was William Massey, a 19-year-old Fort Mill plumber. He said he and his father, Tony, were arrested after cheering for William's fiancee, Tiffany Twitty of Fort Mill, when she received her diploma.

After spending three hours in jail, the men have been contacted by TV news magazine "Inside Edition," which wants to tape a segment on the arrests for an upcoming show if producers can find video of the men being escorted out of the building.

"I just gave a little whoop and a clap, and the next thing you know the cops are all over me," William Massey said. He said people causing other disruptions, like standing up to take photos, were not removed.

"I'm mad," he said, adding that none of the warnings mentioned criminal prosecution for cheering. "Being removed from the building is one thing. Arrested is something else."

Twitty, who hopes to eventually study computer science at Winthrop, said she thinks the cheering incident has been overstated, but she's glad for the national attention "so people can see how ridiculous this is," she said.

"They say the rules are to make sure every graduate's name is heard and to make it special for everyone," she said. "Well, it ruined my day. I didn't get any pictures with my fiancé. Instead, right after the ceremony I had to go bail him out of jail."

Fort Mill High Principal Dee Christopher posted a message on the school district's Web site to quell the outcry for more details. Christopher said graduates and their guests had been warned in a letter that those causing disruptions would be removed from the Winthrop Coliseum, site of the event, by Rock Hill police officers, working as security at the school district's request. A warning also was printed on the admission ticket, reminding spectators that "appropriate behavior" was required.

The seven were arrested after cheering for individual graduates as their names were called, according to Rock Hill police reports. The reports do not indicate any of the suspects' cheers were profane or harassing in nature. The suspects were jailed and charged with public disorderly conduct. One suspect pulled away from an officer trying to handcuff him and also was charged with resisting arrest.

The arrests were discussed on the conservative "Rush Limbaugh Show" radio program last Wednesday afternoon after Limbaugh mentioned the story, setting off a wave of phone calls.

"An innocent little story that I tell at the open of the program that is designed to illustrate the encroaching and gradual loss of freedom is causing the biggest hubbub -- well, it's not the biggest, but it's a hubbub, much bigger hubbub than I thought it would be," Limbaugh said on the air, according to a transcript.

"I mean, this is applauding achievement. This is acknowledging achievement," Limbaugh told a caller who said the rules were designed to keep graduations dignified.

"You don't see the loss of freedom in this? You don't see the slow encroaching on freedom? This is a celebration. This is not a funeral."

In his statement, Christopher stood by the school's policy. He said the arrests began when a "loud disruption brought the ceremony to a halt" and police decided to begin arresting disruptive guests. Christopher said none of the arrested individuals, ranging in age from 19 to 42, was a parent of a graduate.

Last year, three men were arrested for cheering at the FMHS graduation.