Baltimore school officers charged with assault in wake of viral video

A school cop filmed slapping and kicking a student, whom he thought was a trespasser, has renewed debate about how to best utilize student resource officers in public schools. 

Baltimore Police/AP
This composite image includes photos provided by the Baltimore Police of Anthony Spence (l.) and Saverna Bias. Ms. Bias and Mr. Spence, two Baltimore schools police officers, have been charged after cellphone video surfaced showing one of them slapping and kicking a teen at a school while a second officer stood by. Both are charged with second-degree assault and misconduct in office.

A Baltimore schools police officer has been charged with assault for kicking and slapping a 16-year-old student he thought was an intruder. A video of the attack went viral last week as the city, like others in the United States, debates the role of police in public schools.

Anthony Spence has been charged with second-degree assault, second-degree child abuse by a custodian, and misconduct in office. He and a second officer seen standing nearby in the video have both been put on paid administrative leave, as has the chief of the school police. 

The city police, who are separate from Baltimore's school police force, have begun a criminal investigation into the March 1 incident at the REACH Partnership School. 

In an eight-second video, Mr. Spence is seen yelling at the teen, slapping him in the face three times, and kicking him, as Officer Saverna Bias stands nearby. Officer Bias has been charged with second-degree assault and misconduct in office, according to the Baltimore Sun. Both have been released on $50,000 bail.

Spence's attorney, Mike Davey, has said that his client thought the teen and another young man were trespassing near the school's loading dock; the two were not wearing uniforms, and did not know the principal's name. The officer asked the two to leave, and the attack began after one of the boys refused.

On Friday, REACH Partnership School acknowledged that the teen was one of their students. State Sen. Bill Ferguson called the delay in identifying the student "unacceptable."

"The students and the amazing school communities in Baltimore deserve better than what we have today," Senator Ferguson told the Senate on Friday. "I know for a fact that with the right leadership, we can be in a much, much better place, but it won't happen until we make a change."

About 40 percent of US public schools have been assigned so-called School Resource Officers (SRO) from police squads in the past 40 years, sparking fierce debate about whether their presence keeps students safe, or fosters a jail-like environment in which kids are more likely to be referred to police for minor issues that leave a lasting record.

In October 2015, video went viral of an SRO throwing a girl from her chair after she refused to leave class. The officer was fired, and the case launched a civil rights investigation from the Department of Justice and FBI. 

Baltimore's schools have already been debating whether to purchase body cameras for school officers, a costly and legally complicated move that some think could help restore trust between the school community and its police. School police officials have condemned Spence's use of violence, and encouraged students to report any incidents with officers. 

Some of those who say SRO officers' presence is more of a hindrance than a help think proper training could help police officers respond to school situations more appropriately.

"If we’re going to have police in schools, they need to receive more training, they need to understand adolescent behavior better, they have to understand how to de-escalate situations better, they need to understand how a student thinks, and really the serious consequences [of] arresting and incarcerating a juvenile," University of Florida Levin College of Law associate professor Jason Nance told The Christian Science Monitor in August.  

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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