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Video shows police officer tackling an 11-year-old girl he accused of being ‘disruptive’ at school

Body cam footage shows officer Zachary Christensen, who has since resigned, tackling an 11-year-old girl on Aug. 27 at a middle school in Farmington, N.M. (Video: The Washington Post)

The veteran police officer had already pushed the sixth-grader against a brick wall and shoved her to the ground when he shouted at her to “stop resisting.”

Zachary Christensen, an officer in Farmington, N.M., had the 11-year-old pinned to the pavement. Clad in a pink sweater, she was crying as the officer at her middle school tried to wrestler her into handcuffs.

“I’m not resisting,” she told him. “Get off of me — you’re hurting me.”

At one point, a school administrator asked Christensen to let the student stand up, but he refused.

“Officer Christensen, she is not a threat to yourself or others at this moment,” the school official said. “You are not going to use excessive force to get this done.”

Christensen responded that she was indeed a threat and continued to press his forearm into the back of her neck.

“We’re not excessive,” he said.

The scene, which unfolded Aug. 27 at Mesa View Middle School in northern New Mexico, was captured on video and spawned a legal complaint and a string of investigations. It forced Christensen’s resignation and prompted both the school and police department to issue public apologies and promises of reform.

According to the 77-minute body-camera footage, released by the police department, Christensen tackled the student after he and administrators said they tried for several days to get her to behave at school. In the video, Christensen can be heard recounting the complaints against her: disrupting class, standing up on the bus and taking too much milk at the cafeteria.

Christensen later accused the student, who has not been publicly identified, of assaulting him and other school officials — allegations an internal affairs investigation found to be false.

Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe called the incident a failure.

“Like many of you, I was shocked and angry when I watched this video,” Hebbe said in a statement. “We value our relationship with our community and will continue to work hard to maintain the public’s confidence in our department.”

Christensen, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, stepped down after the internal investigation found he violated the department’s use-of-force policies, Hebbe said. The department also reassigned and demoted Christensen’s supervisor.

Investigators with the state police force and the San Juan County District Attorney’s Office reviewed the case, but both agencies told the Farmington Daily Times that neither the officer nor the student would face criminal charges.

Hebbe told the newspaper that the student was diagnosed with a mild concussion and suffered scrapes and bruises. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) told local news that his office would also look into the matter.

“Students should always feel safe in schools. I have called for an expedited investigation and will work directly with all proper authorities involved in this regrettable tragedy,” he said in a statement to the TV channel KOB4.

The case highlights concerns shared by many social justice advocates over the role police officers play in schools across the country. Critics of the arrangement have said campus law enforcement disproportionately affects black and Hispanic students and operates with a lack of federal oversight.

Raeford Davis, a former North Charleston officer turned policing reform advocate, said Christensen’s actions were representative of a systemic problem.

“This is not one bad officer,” Davis wrote on Twitter. “This is American policing #JustComply mindset taken to its logically absurd conclusion.”

Christensen’s body-camera footage begins about 35 minutes before he grabs the student and slams her to the ground. Christensen and other school officials can be seen following her around the campus while they wait for her mother to arrive.

The officer can be heard complaining that the student was “refusing to do anything that anyone says” and that “this has been an ongoing issue.” Christensen told one of the administrators that he was trying to get approval to detain the student.

“Then I can put her in handcuffs,” he said.

Christensen and the school principal then followed the student inside the building, where she lingered by the front, picking at a sign taped to the door. Christensen asked the principal how much the sign was worth and threatened to arrest the student if she didn’t stop toying with it.

“If you destroy it, it’s called criminal damage to property,” he said, raising his voice. “I’m going to charge you with criminal damage to property. Yeah, you’re going to go to jail for 50 cents. Yeah, plus resisting, plus disrupting the education process.”

Minutes later, when the student pushed the principal’s hand away from the door and walked back out of the building, Christensen followed her. Grabbing her backpack, he yelled “You’re done” seven times and tried to force the student’s arms behind her back. During the struggle, Christensen’s camera fell off and recorded the rest of the incident from the ground.

“You’re not going to assault the principal,” Christensen said, shoving her against the outside of the building.

He wrestled with her for nearly three minutes before letting her get up and walk away.

“Leave me alone,” she said, “I want to go home.”

“You don’t get that option!” he replied, shouting.

He again accused her of resisting arrest and assault — this time on him, too.

Pointing at the camera still filming from the ground, he said, “It’s all on that camera right there.”

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