A police officer trying to break up a fight involving at least two girls at Narbonne High School in Harbor City doused students with pepper spray Thursday, exposing 47 of them to the irritant and sending one to a hospital, students and firefighters said.
Firefighters treated the students on the athletic field and in the cafeteria shortly after they were called to the campus at 24230 S. Western Ave. at 10:15 a.m.
Students told the Daily Breeze that a female police officer used the pepper spray when she was unable to break up the fight near the student store on campus. A crowd of students had gathered around the melee to watch.
"They just started fighting," said ninth-grader Damond Williams, resting in the back of an ambulance before he was taken to the hospital.
Williams was using an inhaler.
Students who requested anonymity said the officer pulled out the spray because she was unable to quell the fracas and a crowd of students was egging things on.
"The school cop just came and pepper-sprayed everyone," one student said. "It hurt."
Los Angeles Unified School District officials issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying the district police officer tried to come to the aid of a fallen student involved in the fight but could not because of the large crowd.
"Concerned for the safety of the fallen student and the officer's own safety, the officer dispensed a short burst of pepper spray into the air to disperse the crowd," the statement said. "The dispensing of pepper spray allowed the officer to come to the aid of the fallen student and break up the fight."
The 47 exposed students were treated for minor respiratory ailments and eye irritation. Paramedics rinsed their eyes and provided some with oxygen, city fire spokesman Brian Humphrey said.
Parent Tami Bush said she rushed to the campus when she heard about the incident. She arrived to find her son among the victims. The ninth-grader was one of the two students suffering from asthma problems.
"I saw it on the news. I called my son. He wasn't answering, so, of course, I panicked," Bush said. "I don't know what happened, but I'm going to find out. It's in his eyes and his mouth so we are going to the emergency room."
District officials said the students involved in the fight were cited. The school police department is investigating the use-of-force incident.
The school's principal planned to send a letter home to parents, and counselors will be on campus Friday.