THE WASHINGTON POST
Texas officials said a school police officer has been put on administrative leave after cellphone video surfaced on social media seemingly showing him body-slamming a sixth-grade girl to the ground.
The San Antonio Independent School District said it is investigating an incident that occurred March 29 at Rhodes Middle School in which the police officer, identified by the district as Joshua Kehm, appeared to be attempting to restrain 12-year-old student Janissa Valdez before he threw her down.
Video emerged on YouTube on Tuesday seeming to show Kehm struggling to hold the girl from behind as her schoolmates called out, “Janissa! Janissa, chill!”
The officer then hurled the girl to the ground — and a loud crack can be heard as her head hit the brick pavement. The crowd gasped and then fell silent.
“Janissa! Janissa, you OK?” one student said. “She landed on her face!”
The officer handcuffed the girl, pulled her to her feet and escorted her from the area as another student reached out and gently touched her shoulder.
The school district would not release details about the student, but the girl’s mother identified her to local media as 12-year-old Janissa Valdez.
“I guess we’re still both kind of shocked,” her mother, Gloria Valdez, told the San Antonio Express-News. “We still can’t believe it happened.”
District administrators said they first learned about the video late Tuesday.
“The video is very disturbing,” district spokeswoman Leslie Price said Thursday morning in a statement to The Washington Post. “We immediately launched a formal investigation, which is being conducted by both district police and administration.”
Kehm has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.
“We are working to gather all of the details around this incident to ensure that we take the appropriate action,” Price said in the statement.
Judith Browne Dianis, co-director for Advancement Project, a civil rights organization, said the Texas incident “demonstrates the urgent need to take action to remove police officers from our schools.”
“It is unconscionable for a 12-year-old student involved in a verbal altercation to be brutalized and dehumanized in this manner,” she said in a statement. “Once again, a video captured by a student offers a sobering reminder that we cannot entrust school police officers to intervene in school disciplinary matters that are best suited for trained educators and counselors.”
“I was upset. I was angry, because I still couldn’t believe that he had done that to her,” Janissa’s mother told ABC affiliate KSAT. “And then she told me, ‘Mom, I wasn’t fighting. Why would he do that?’”
Janissa Valdez told KSAT that she and another student were meeting to discuss some upsetting comments the other student had purportedly made about Janissa. The 12-year-old added to NBC affiliate WOAI that other kids started to congregate in the hall to see whether the two students planned to fight.
“I was walking toward her, telling her, ‘Let’s go somewhere else,’ because there was a lot of people,” Janissa told KSAT. “Then that’s when other people came over and the officer thought we were going to fight.
“That’s whenever he came and did that.”
Janissa did tell the news station that a vice principal told them to separate.
Valdez, Janissa’s mother, said her daughter was suspended for two days.
Valdez told the San Antonio Express-News that Janissa has been in fights.
“She has. I won’t lie,” Valdez told the newspaper. “She had been bullied at the beginning of the school year. I talked to a counselor, the vice principal and principal, and they said they’d look into it. Finally, the other student started attacking her and got into a fight, and it led to my daughter getting suspended.
“Supposedly the other little girl wanted to argue with my daughter, but I honestly don’t know the reason why.”
Valdez told the San Antonio Express-News she has told her daughter she cannot get into another altercation.
“Because the administrators told her, ‘Next time you’ll go to jail and Mom gets a fine,’ ” she told the newspaper.
Still, Valdez said the way her daughter was treated was unacceptable.
I was upset. I was angry, because I still couldn’t believe that he had done that to her. And then she told me, ‘Mom, I wasn’t fighting. Why would he do that?”
-Gloria Valdez, mother of 12-year-old Janissa Valdez
“You could actually hear her head hit the concrete. That’s what hurt me the most,” she told KSAT. “He didn’t even seem like it bothered him. He still handcuffed her after she was unconscious.”
Janissa told WOAI she doesn’t remember being slammed to the ground, but her mother told KSAT that Janissa’s right eye was bruised and swollen.
The San Antonio Express-News reported that Kehm’s LinkedIn page said he enlisted in the Air Force in 2007 and worked as “non-lethal weapons instructor.” His LinkedIn page appears to have been taken down.
Price, the district spokeswoman, told ABC News that Kehm started working as a district police officer in 2015.
Browne Dianis with Advancement Project questioned whether such incidents are driven by something more.
“How many students of color must be brutalized by police officers in their schools before we recognize the pattern?” she said in the statement. “We saw this with 17-year-old Brittany Overstreet in Tampa, Florida, who was body-slammed and knocked unconscious by a school resource officer; in Baltimore, Maryland, where a middle school student required ten stitches after she was assaulted by a school resource officer; in Columbia, South Carolina, where a student was thrown across a classroom, handcuffed and arrested for using her phone during class and now, in San Antonio.
“We cannot wait for another violent video of police brutality in our schools to surface before we take action.”