A police officer from a San Antonio middle school was fired Monday for what officials say is an unwarranted use of force on a 12-year-old girl and for giving the district an account that was "inconsistent with the video" of the incident.
The firing came a week after a half-minute video shot by an unidentified student at Rhodes Middle School on March 29 circulated widely online, showing Officer Joshua Kehm struggling with the girl, Janissa Valdez, in a student-packed school hallway before picking her up and slamming her, face down, to the ground. Officer Kehm then handcuffed Janissa, picked her up, and led her away.
Students had surrounded Valdez and another girl who were in an altercation before Kehm body-slammed the sixth-grader. He told the school district that Valdez fell accidentally after fighting an arrest, according to San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Paul Martinez.
"We understand that situations can sometimes escalate to the point of requiring a physical response; however, in this situation we believe that the extent of the response was absolutely unwarranted," said Mr. Martinez in a statement, according to The Washington Post.
"Additionally, the officer's report was inconsistent with the video and it was also delayed, which is not in accordance with the general operating procedures of the police department," he said.
Kehm had been a San Antonio school police officer since February 2015.
His firing, and the body-slamming itself, feed into a national debate over police presence in schools in the age of mass shootings. While some believe that police presence helps keep schools safer, others fear that it leads to unwarranted arrests, particularly of minority students, creating a pipeline from schools to jails and generating more friction between police and their communities.
"It's clear that as a nation, we are severely underestimating the traumatic impact of our children being subject to, or even just seeing or witnessing, unnecessary physical force and arrests in our schools and classrooms," former US Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in October 2015 in response to a similar incident in South Carolina, where a white police officer flipped a black female high school student out of her desk and then threw her across the room.
"Schools must be safe havens. They must be filled with compassion and love," Mr. Duncan said at a press conference.
Over 43,000 security guards and School Resource Officers, including law enforcement officers, work at US public schools, according to a 2014 report from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Their presence in US schools has grown drastically over the last few decades, as The Christian Science Monitor has reported. In 1975, just 1 percent of schools had police officers. By 1997, that grew to 22 percent, and by 2007, the figure was 40 percent.
In San Antonio, Officer Kehm's case has been referred to the Texas Rangers, the state law enforcement agency, for possible criminal charges, the Associated Press reports.
But the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, an organization that provides legal support to law enforcement professionals, says it will appeal his firing.
"There's two sides to every story," association executive director Charley Wilkison said Monday, according to the AP.
"We intend to fully, fully defend this officer and make sure that all of his rights are upheld," he said.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.