A La Mesa police officer will no longer patrol schools after cell phone video captured him slamming a 17-year-old girl to the ground at Helix Charter High School Friday.
The officer is not being disciplined as the department investigates his use of force, said Lt. Chad Bell, a spokesman for the La Mesa Police Department. Instead, he has been transferred to the investigations division.
The video sparked outrage after Aeiramique Blake, a community organizer, posted it on social media and promised to “completely (shut) down my sister’s school, Helix High.”
On Monday, about 100 students walked out of classes to protest the incident and demand changes at the school and police department.
“When we ask you to put yourself in our place, do it genuinely. When we ask the police to look back on their force and investigate this, do it genuinely,” said Helix senior Melat Ezana. “Don’t just give us your words to make you look good. Do it genuinely, because we are not going to stand here and see this happen to another one of our students.”
According to a statement from Bell, Helix staff called police for assistance at about 1:20 p.m. Friday when the girl, who was on “suspended status,” would not comply with directions to leave school grounds. An officer tried to get the student to leave voluntarily, then ordered her to do so.
She refused to cooperate, the statement says, and the officer arrested her and placed her in handcuffs.
“As they were walking, the student became non-compliant on two separate occasions and made an attempt to free herself by pulling away from the officer,” Bell said. “To prevent the student from escaping, the officer forced the student to the ground.”
The video does not clearly show what led up to the slam, but shows the officer throw the girl across his body from left to right, with her upper body-slamming onto the concrete first. The officer then pins the girl on the ground with his upper body for several seconds as the teen appears to lay motionless on the ground, then rolls her to her side.
“After the student agreed to quit resisting and attempting to escape, the officer assisted her up and walked her to his patrol vehicle,” the statement says.
Helix student Steven Feiga said he witnessed the incident.
“The police officer that did this had no right to do this at all,” he said. “She didn’t fight back. She didn’t give him attitude. She obeyed the officer and he slammed her.”
Feiga and his classmates are calling for La Mesa police to receive de-escalation training. They also want Helix to adopt a restorative justice policy that softens harsh and hasty punishment in favor of mediation.
“Give them a voice during the encounter. If someone is feeling and saying that they’re not being treated right … you have to listen to that,” Rev. Cornelius Bowser said at Monday’s walkout. “You just don’t ignore it and call the police.”
Blake, the woman who posted the video to social media, told the Union-Tribune that the student was asked to leave campus after a teacher, suspecting her of being on drugs, searched her bag and found pepper spray.
Jenn Osborn, a spokeswoman for the school said students can be expelled for carrying “dangerous objects.” Helix’s student handbook and the state education code do not explicitly ban pepper spray from school campuses. State law prohibits minors from carrying tear gas.
Blake told the Union-Tribune the student carried pepper spray for protection because she rides the trolley to school from southeast San Diego.
“No matter what was done or not done, that was not the appropriate way to handle a young lady,” Blake told the newspaper. “The community is completely outraged.”
The student received “minor abrasions” in the incident, police said. She was taken to the La Mesa Police Department, where she was evaluated by paramedics and determined not to require treatment.
The department has forwarded her case to the district attorney for charges.
School officials did not provide additional details on the incident, citing student privacy concerns, but said “actions taken by the school are guided by what is lawful and in the best interests of Helix Charter High School students, staff and school community.”
Police spokesman Bell said his department’s investigation into the officer’s use of force is its No. 1 priority.
[Additional reporting by City News Service]
— Matthew Bowler is video journalist and Megan Burks is education reporter for KPBS.