An attorney for three students who were allegedly threatened and beaten at a Pittsburgh high school said recent surveillance video exposes an atmosphere where administrators and police are “assaulting children.”
Todd Hollis, a civil rights attorney, said his clients plan to sue the Woodland Hills School District, school board and Churchill Police Department in three separate cases in southwestern Pennsylvania.
“We want a change in the culture,” Hollis said in an interview.
“This has gone uncovered; nobody feels that they’ve done anything wrong because they’ve been doing it so long,” Hollis added. “They’re assaulting children. They’re violating children’s civil and constitutional rights.”
The three incidents at Woodland Hills High School date to March 2015, when a then-15-year-old student was taken to the principal because he disagreed with a teacher in a classroom, the student’s attorney said.
Surveillance video released Tuesday showed Ahmad Williams sitting in the school office when the school resource officer, identified as Churchill Police Officer Steve Shaulis, pointed a finger in the teen’s face.
The officer was seen walking into a hallway, where he appeared to continue speaking to the boy.
Hollis, the teen’s attorney, said the officer was “taunting” the teen, and that the teen responded.
The video showed the officer pull the boy by his collar and put him in a chokehold, forcing him down a hallway headed away from the camera. The officer then slammed him to the ground.
Another man, identified as Woodland Hills High School Principal Kevin Murray, quickly intervened — holding the teen’s head down as the resource officer appeared to use a taser on him.
“Shaulis tased him a number of times and handcuffed him,” Hollis said in a statement. “After handcuffing the child, Shaulis lifted the child up off the ground by his handcuffs and took him back into his office, where he continued to assault the child. The child was later charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. After presenting the attached video in court, the student’s charge for resisting arrest was dismissed.”
Hollis said a second student was threatened in November when he was found on school property after hours. A school administrator told him to leave and, during an argument, the teen called her a vulgar slur.
The student was then taken to see the principal. In an audio clip, the principal can be heard saying, “Call me a b—-. You want to treat my people like s—, treat me like s—; see how this goes for you.”
“You call me a b—-, I’m going to f—— punch you in the face,” he continued. “Man to man, bro. I don’t care if you’re f—— 14 years old or not, I will punch you in your face and, when we go down to court, it’s your word versus mine, and mine wins every time.”
The next month, Murray, the principal, was put on administrative leave during an investigation by the school district and the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
He was reinstated earlier this year.
Murray’s attorney, Phil DiLucente, said “Principal Murray has nothing but love and admiration and respect for the over 10,000 children he has seen go through the Woodland Hills School District doors and become productive members of our society. However, he will not tolerate misbehavior.”
On April 3, 14-year-old Que’chawn Wade was holding a cellphone that belonged to another child and, when the phone later went missing, he was “interrogated” by the school resource officer, his attorney said.
Surveillance video showed several adults questioning the student in the school office.
“Que’chawn walked out of the door and into the school hallway,” Hollis, his attorney, said in a statement. “Officer Shaulis followed him and called him a vile name. Que’chawn responded by saying, ‘Watch your mouth. You don’t know me.’ ”
The video then showed two police officers grab the student and force him into a room out of sight of the camera.
“Principal Kevin Murray followed the officers as they forced Mr. Wade into the office that was not secured with video cameras,” Hollis said in the statement. “Once in the office, Shaulis threw Wade into the wall where Mr. Wade bruised his face and fell onto a nearby chair. Shaulis then threw Wade to the ground and punched him in the face, knocking his front tooth out.”
DiLucente, Murray’s attorney who is also representing Shaulis, said the officer “has and will continue to protect and serve the school district and the community.”
Woodland Hills Superintendent Alan Johnson said the school district conducted an internal investigation “focused only on whether any school district personnel were directly involved” in last month’s incident and found that no personnel played a part in it. He added that prosecutors are further investigating and that the school district is “cooperating fully.”
“The police officer involved in this incident is not an employee of the Woodland Hills School District but is rather a municipal police officer employed by the local police agency where the high school is located,” he said in a statement. “The officer involved has been removed from the school and we are awaiting the results of the District Attorney’s investigation.”
DiLucente said Shaulis is still on the job. Churchill police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mike Manko, a spokesman for the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, said prosecutors are aware of the surveillance videos and are investigating the incidents.
“We are working with other agencies, both state and federal, to determine what if any crimes have been committed,” he said in a statement, “and which venue best addresses the issues presented.”
This story has been updated.