Video footage of a La Mesa police officer slamming a handcuffed high school student to the ground has sparked outrage, with some community members calling for the officer’s removal.
The incident happened at Helix Charter High School near San Diego about 1:30 p.m. Friday. The interaction between the police officer and the student — captured in a 30-second video that shows a portion of the altercation and was widely shared on social media — angered other students, parents and community members who plan to stage a protest at the campus Monday morning.
Officers were called to the school when a 17-year-old student who had been suspended refused to leave the University Avenue campus, La Mesa Police Chief Walt Vasquez said in a statement.
A school resource officer tried to get the girl to leave voluntarily, then ordered her to do so. When she didn’t cooperate, the officer handcuffed her and began walking her to the school’s office, Vasquez said.
“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,” the chief said. “To prevent the student from escaping, the officer forced the student to the ground.”
In video of the incident, the officer is seen throwing the girl over his shoulder onto the concrete sidewalk. He then used the weight of his body to pin her to the ground.
The officer forced her to the ground twice, witnesses said.
Vasquez said that after the student agreed to quit resisting or trying to escape, the officer helped her up and walked her to his patrol vehicle.
Police said that the student suffered minor abrasions during the incident and that she was evaluated by paramedics at the police station who determined she didn’t require treatment.
Aeiramique Blake, speaking on behalf of the girl’s family, said the incident has been mischaracterized by police.
Blake said the teen was assigned to in-school suspension for tardiness when the girl told an instructor she wasn’t feeling well. The student explained she was anemic and had experienced similar feelings before, but the teacher allegedly accused her of being on drugs, Blake said.
The instructor asked to search her backpack, and the girl complied. No drugs were found, but the teen had pepper spray in her bag.
The student said she traveled with pepper spray for protection because she took the trolley from southeast San Diego to school every day. The teacher said that because pepper spray is a weapon, the girl would have to leave campus.
Blake said the girl felt the instructor’s behavior was discriminatory and she decided she wasn’t going to leave campus until she felt she was being heard.
When the instructor called police, the teen didn’t resist being handcuffed, but still refused to leave campus, according to Blake.
Blake said her sister, who also attends the high school, was one of the students who took video of the incident.
“No matter what was done or not done, that was not the appropriate way to handle a young lady,” Blake said. “The community is completely outraged.”
Students, parents and community members are expected to ask that the officer not be allowed to patrol any other schools in the future.
Police investigators will be looking over the video as part of their review of the incident.
“As is protocol with all incidents involving use of force, the La Mesa Police Department will be conducting a detailed review of the force used and of the entire incident,” Vasquez said. “Helix High School officials are also fully aware of the facts surrounding the incident.”
Winkley writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.