Baltimore prosecutors are investigating after a school police officer was caught on video hitting and kicking a young man inside a city school.
Baltimore City Public Schools released a statement saying their own officials are "vigorously investigating" the Tuesday incident at REACH Partnership School. In a cellphone video shot by a student, a school police officer can be seen slapping and kicking a young man while another officer stands by.
The incident raises anew questions about school resource officer training and the use of excessive force.
On Wednesday, Baltimore state's attorney's office spokeswoman Rochelle Ritchie said prosecutors are working closely with the city's police department and the school police to investigate the incident.
"The State's Attorney's Office takes this matter very seriously," she said in a statement.
Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith said Wednesday that the department has assigned an investigative liaison from the department's Office of Professional Responsibility to provide assistance to the school police.
The city's police department and the school police force are wholly separate agencies.
Officials have not yet identified the officers involved, but acting school police Chief Akil Hamm confirmed that both were placed on administrative leave with pay Tuesday after officials were made aware of the video.
Hamm said both officers were on foot patrol between schools and were armed at the time of the incident.
Hamm also said the victim was not a student at REACH and that school officials are actively trying to identify him.
But Lauren Geisser, an attorney for the victim, says he is a 10th-grade student at REACH, and that she and her client tried to meet with the school's principal Wednesday but were told he was in a meeting. Geisser said the school provided a printout that listed his name on the school's roster.
Another attorney at the firm, Charles Gilman, said the teen was "a little traumatized" by the encounter.
It's not clear what led up to the incident, or what happened after the camera stopped recording, but Hamm said the officers were called to the school for a report of intruders on campus.
City schools CEO Dr. Gregory Thornton issued a statement calling the officer's behavior "completely unacceptable."
"I am completely appalled and disappointed by what is depicted in the video," he said.
The head of the city's school police force, Marshall Goodwin, has been placed on administrative leave, but some activists and elected officials say that's not enough.
City Bloc, a group of youth advocates in Baltimore, called for the officers involved in the incident to be fired.
"As students, we come to school to learn, and all people in schools, whether teachers, administrators, or yes, police officers, should be committed to making that happen in an effective and safe manner," the group said in a statement released Wednesday, adding that "there are no more excuses for inaction, subpar training and unaccountability."
The incident comes a year after an encounter between a school police officer and three girls at a Baltimore middle school turned so violent that the students were left bloodied; one girl was taken to the hospital, where she received stitches for a head wound.
It's also reminiscent of a case in Spring Valley High School in Columbia, S.C., last October, when cell phone videos captured a school resource officer tossed a female student from her chair for refusing to leave the classroom, as The Christian Science Monitor reported:
The officer is seen grabbing the student, and then wrapping his forearm around her neck. Knocking her backwards and dragging her across the floor, he finally says, “Put your hands behind your back, give me your hands.”
The girl has been charged under the state's 2006 disturbing schools law, which is a misdemeanor with a maximum of a $1,000 fine or, up to 90 days in jail. She was released home to her parents. The uniformed officer, Deputy Ben Fields, who is white, has been placed on administrative duties as the Richland County Sheriff's Department is now investigating the altercation.
"It's very disturbing what happened today. It's something I have to deal with and that's what we're going to be doing," Sheriff Leon Loff told WLTX-TV. He said he has requested the FBI and the US Dept. of Justice undertake an independent probe into what took place Monday morning.
State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a former teacher in Baltimore, took to Twitter to call for immediate action.
"Inaction is unacceptable by the school board and the @BaltCitySchools CEO," one tweet read. Another read, "It's time for a top to bottom review of @BaltCitySchools school police department. $8M/yr for police yet $2.5M year on college advising."
Melanie Shapiro, a juvenile public defender, said a school police officer using excessive force on a student is "not what we'd consider an isolated incident."
"At the public defender's office, several clients report to us being treated negatively, both verbally as well as having excessive use of force by school police," Shapiro said. "Because the students are in schools, and the police are in schools, there's a hesitation on the student's part to report. But this incident was captured on video; there's no denying what happened."
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