Baltimore officers on leave over slapping video shot on school grounds

Posted at 3:25 PM, Mar 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-02 17:25:29-05
By Ray Sanchez, Brian Todd and Joshua Berlinger


(CNN) — The Baltimore school system’s top cop and two other officers have been placed on administrative leave after the release of a cell phone video showing one of the officers slapping and kicking a young man, officials said Wednesday.

The five-second video was posted online this week. It shows the uniformed officer slapping a young man three times — one slap loud enough to hear a pop — and then kicking him while yelling profanities.

The incident happened Tuesday on the grounds of Reach! Partnership School in Baltimore, school officials said.

The officer seen striking the youth and a female officer standing behind him have been placed on paid administrative leave, said Karen Parks, spokeswoman for the Baltimore public school system.

The officer is under investigation for assault and misconduct, officials said.

“As a parent of a Baltimore city school student, I was appalled by what I saw,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said of the video. “The behavior that was demonstrated … is certainly something you never want to see. … Certainly not a school officer acting in this way, particularly with a young person.”

Baltimore School Police Chief Michael Goodwin was also placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation, Parks said.

Parks said the unidentified young man who was slapped was not a student at the school, and officials were trying to figure out whether he was enrolled in Baltimore’s school system.

“His presence at the school and the series of events before and after the incident are currently under investigation,” the city school system said, referring to the young man.

Baltimore police and state’s attorney’s office are handling the criminal investigation, officials said.

“I am completely appalled and disappointed by what is depicted in the video,” the school system’s CEO, Gregory Thornton, said in the statement. “Our school police officers are entrusted with ensuring the safety of our students and staff, and I know that most of them take this job seriously while maintaining a high level of professionalism. The behavior in the video is completely unacceptable.”

Akil Hamm, acting chief of the Baltimore school police, said the “excessive force” displayed in the video was “very troubling.”

Michael Davey, attorney for the officer who struck the young man, said his client was responding to a call of an intruder on school grounds.

Davey said the online video captures only a few seconds of an encounter that played out over several minutes.

The young man became belligerent and angry after the officer repeatedly asked him to leave, according to Davey, who said the earlier part of the encounter does not appear to have been captured on video.

“I’m a parent, and I’m totally appalled at what I saw in that video,” Karl Perry, the chief school supports officer, told CNN affiliate WJZ:

Another man, Gary Payne, who was interviewed near the school, told the station: “If it was my son, I would be highly upset, asking questions, wanting to know what happened prior to it. But still, nobody deserves to get … hands put on them like that.”

Baltimore school police officers not only patrol the schools but also investigate offenses, counsel students and advise school staff on security issues, according to the district’s website.

According to Maryland law, school police officers have all the powers of state peace officers and receive the same academy training as city police officers, the website said.

A coalition of Baltimore activists held a news conference Wednesday to condemn the actions of the school police officer.

Thena Robinson Mock, project director of the Advancement Project’s Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track, said the video was part of a “horrific pattern of … brutality against youth of color” in the nation’s schools.

“We have a problem with police in schools,” she said. “We need to truly examine our approach to the role of police officers in schools. … This is not a discipline or policing crisis. This is racial justice crisis.”

Both officers in the video and the young man appear to be black.

Some 43% of all U.S. public schools — including 63% of middle and 64% of high schools — had school resource officers on their grounds during the 2013-2014 school year, the National Center for Education Statistics noted in May.

CNN’s John Newsome contributed to this story.