A North Carolina police officer was placed on paid administrative leave Tuesday after videos surfaced showing him picking up a high school student and slamming her to the ground.
The footage, which was shared widely on social media, shows a resource officer at Rolesville High School lifting a student by the torso and throwing her onto the floor as a crowd of other students and school employees watch. The police department in Rolesville, which is about 15 miles northeast of Raleigh, identified the officer as Ruben De Los Santos and said he was responding to a fight that broke out between two female students in the cafeteria shortly after 7 a.m.
The officer will remain on paid leave while the department investigates the incident. Police said they asked the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation to conduct a third-party review, but they did not provide any further details.
“We will work diligently to review any and all pertinent information so that we provide an accurate account of the events,” Rolesville Police Chief Bobby Langston said in a statement. “We ask the community and all members involved to be patient while we investigate this matter.”
School officials also said they were looking into the incident. The school’s principal, Dhedra Lassiter, said she was “deeply concerned” by what she saw in the video, saying it raised questions about “the manner in which we keep students and staff safe in our schools.”
“The safety of our students is always our first priority. Our school district works with many dedicated officers who protect our students,” Lassiter said in a statement. “It is vital that our children have a positive relationship with these law enforcement officials.”
The footage stirred outrage on social media and drew comparisons to video that went viral in late 2015 of a South Carolina police officer yanking a high school student out of her chair and throwing her across a classroom. In that incident, federal authorities opened a civil rights investigation and the officer was fired from the department for using excessive force.
As a nationwide debate has raged over police accountability, the Obama administration has sought to clarify the role officers play in schools and colleges. In September, the administration sent letters to schools across the country urging education officials to make clear what they expect of the police who work on their campuses. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said at the time that the incident in South Carolina and other violent episodes raised concerns about “unnecessary school discipline practices.”
A nine-second video of the incident in Rolesville was posted by a student and retweeted more than 3,400 times as of Tuesday night. The video pans across a crowd of students wearing backpacks and jackets standing in the school’s cafeteria.
Moments later, the video shows De Los Santos wrapping his arms around a young woman in a pink shirt and blue jeans, lifting her and throwing her onto the concrete floor. She lands on her side with a thud and lies motionless for a few seconds before the officer hoists her up and leads her away, holding her hands behind her back.
— ABC11 EyewitnessNews (@ABC11_WTVD) January 3, 2017
A second video shows the chaotic scene beforehand. In the blurry, minute-long video, a fight breaks out between two young women, who can be seen throwing punches at each other and wrestling on the ground. Some students and school employees appear to try to pull them apart. As the camera moves through the crowd, De Los Santos can be seen from behind throwing the student down.
The student who posted the first video tweeted that the young woman was trying to protect her sister, who was one of the two who were fighting. “Then the cop came outta nowhere,” she wrote.
@ArmaniCarmellee the girl in the pink was trying to defend her sister who was fighting another girl. Then the cop came outta nowhere
— Ahunna (@ahunnaaa_) January 3, 2017
The Wake County Public School System thanked her for sharing the video, saying it was working with the police department on the investigation.
@ahunnaaa_ Thank you for sharing this with us. We are working with Rolesville Police Department to investigate.
— Wake County Schools (@WCPSS) January 3, 2017
Rolesville Mayor Frank Eagles said body-camera footage of the incident may exist, according to the Raleigh News and Observer. The Rolesville Police Department announced in August that all officers would be equipped with body cameras, the paper reported. The mayor told ABC11 that De Los Santos had been assigned to the school since it opened in 2013.
The North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said it was investigating the incident and called on anyone with information to contact the group.
“We’re very disturbed by what we saw in the video,” ACLU staff lawyer Irena Como told the News and Observer. “This kind of force, especially with kids in schools, is never justified.”
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