5 South Haven HS students accused of sex crimes

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Five South Haven High School students face felony charges for allegedly sexually assaulting a fellow student who is underage.

The South Haven Police Department said the allegations involve five young men and a girl between the ages of 13 and 15. Investigators say the girl knows the young men and they are all within two grade levels of each other.

Court documents show the alleged sexual acts happened sometime between Nov. 1 and Dec. 6, 2016.

“At least one of the sexual acts occurred on school property and the others occurred within the city and township limits but off school property,” South Haven Police Chief Natalie Thompson said.

The alleged victim apparently told someone about the incidents and the school reported the situation to police last week. Thompson said detectives met with school officials, the alleged victim and her parents. The chief also said a plainclothes detective met with each of the suspects at the school “since it was important to reach all of the young men at (approximately) the same time” so they couldn’t have access to social media or electronic devices to contact one another. They were questioned separately.

Police on Monday turned the case over to the prosecutor’s office, which issued warrants for third-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a victim between the ages of 13 and 15 against the five suspects. Investigators say the incidents met the requirement for that charge because the defendants allegedly engaged in sexual penetration and the victim was at least 13 but younger than 16.

The five suspects turned themselves in, were arraigned and were released on $1,000 bond, according to Thompson. Wednesday, police identified them as DaMari Palmer, 18; DeShaan Palmer, 18; Cameron Watkins, 17; Darion Gist-Lewis, 18; and Caskadara Smith, 17.

Thompson said a sixth person who does not attend the school may face charges. He has not yet been interviewed. There’s also the possibility that non-CSC charges could be sought against additional suspects. Specific details about those other suspects and what their involvement may have been have not yet been released.

“There are two sides to this,” Thompson said. “Obviously the victim, her privacy and safety needs to be protected. And an important thing to remember, too, about the suspects is that they are innocent until proven guilty.”

South Haven Public Schools responded to the investigation on Facebook Wednesday afternoon:

“South Haven Public Schools is concerned for all the students and families involved with this issue. While we will continue to cooperate with SHPD during their investigation and understand the courts will make the final determination on the individuals involved, our main role is to help support our students and families as best we can,” it stated in part.

In a Wednesday news release, Thompson acknowledged that “emotions may run deep on this matter.”

“Our thoughts are with the families of all those involved in this alleged matter. While the law may see some of them as adults, we understand that they are teenagers. We are concerned for the well-being of all those involved. As a police department, we will continue to work with the school and with the prosecutor to ensure that justices will be done in this matter,” she stated.

The suspects are expected back in court on March 8. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison.