Students shooting video in Wildwood Park become the object of police call

March 5, 2015 — by Rachel Hull and Michelle Leung

Junior Spencer Yen thought he was witnessing a drug bust as he stood by a picnic table in Wildwood Park on March 3, peering into the darkness as eight police officers walked toward him and a couple of friends.

Junior Spencer Yen thought he was witnessing a drug bust as he stood by a picnic table in Wildwood Park on March 3, peering into the darkness as eight police officers walked toward him and a couple of friends. Then Yen heard two words that made him realize the gravity of the incident — and the reason for the police response.

“Hands up!”

It all started late that night, when Yen and another junior boy met with senior Tony Holt in the park to work on a video project about the Vietnam War for their Media Arts Program class. Holt, though not in the group, had volunteered to play the part of a Vietnam War veteran. The group had wanted to film a flashback scene in which Holt was in Vietnam during his night shift.

Holt sat by the creek bed with an Airsoft gun, but there was something different about the gun — his group members had taped over the orange tip.

“It looked really real,” Yen said.

Holt said that he thought he had heard before that covering the orange tip was illegal, but this fact did not register at the time.

“It’s been a rough past few weeks for me, actually, even though it is second semester senior year,” Holt said. “I’ve been busy with my own senior project, acting in their film, homework, track, so I wasn’t really thinking about it.”

But he was thinking about it when eight deputies showed up, two of them with assault rifles. According to Holt, a man walking his dog in the park’s parking lot called the police when he saw the gun. It didn’t help that Holt was geared up in a helmet and camouflage outfit.

As the deputies approached them, Holt said he felt “prepared” for the incident. His MAP video project last year about Vietnam included several scenes with guns, and he and his group members had talked about how they would react if someone saw them.

“When I saw the [deputy] walking on the bridge saying, ‘Hey, can you guys put your hands up?’ my first reaction was, ‘Ah. Darn it,’” he said.

What he was not prepared for, however, was what the deputies told him next. They said the incident could have escalated into something much more serious if Holt had been holding the gun when they arrived.

By mere chance, the gun had been set by the creek while the group fiddled with flashlights, trying to determine how to film in the dim light.

“If I had been dumb enough to have been holding the gun in an offensive position and pointing it at someone, there’s definitely the chance that I could have been killed,” Holt said. “But luckily I was not dumb enough to do that.”

Still, the consequences were severe.

Since Holt is 18, he will be charged as an adult with a misdemeanor for covering the orange tip — though Holt himself was not the one to do so. He must appear in court on May 1, when a judge will either acquit him or charge him with a misdemeanor and require him to pay a fee.

“Tony isn’t even in our group; he was just an actor,” Yen said. “So it kind of sucks for him.”

When they heard about the incident, Holt’s parents had varying reactions: his dad brushed it off while his mom was less amused.

Ironically, deputies also responded the same night to an incident at the Saratoga Library. Seniors Alex Kim and Jonathan Oh were studying for an AP Language and Composition midterm when a citizen called the police, concerned about their comments regarding “the positive right to kill.”

“Deep down inside, I knew I didn’t do anything,” Oh said. “I mean, I was studying for a Lang midterm, so I [didn’t] really have anything to fear.”

The two seniors escaped with nothing more than a lecture from a deputy.

Meanwhile, Holt said he felt an “adrenaline high” as part of his own encounter with the police.

Holt said he felt that the deputies would have been called even if the orange tip was not covered. He referenced an incident two years ago, when a different group of MAP students had a run-in with the police when they, too, used Airsoft guns for their project. Both times the police cited the students for filming without a permit.

“Personally I’ve learned that it’s probably a good idea to either not use guns, let the authorities know and get a film permit and do all that, go through all that,” Holt said, “or face the consequences.”

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