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Off-duty officer resigns from school district role after being seen on video putting his knee on the neck of a 12-year-old to break up a fight

Originally Published: 16 MAR 22 20:03 ET
Updated: 16 MAR 22 20:31 ET

(CNN) — A Kenosha Police Department off-duty officer who was seen on video putting his knee on the neck of a 12-year-old to break up a fight has resigned from his role at the Kenosha Unified School District.

The officer resigned “effective Tuesday, March 16. As it appears that this incident may lead to litigation, the district will provide no further details at this time,” Kenosha Unified School District spokeswoman Tanya Ruder told CNN.

The school district said the officer was working as a security guard at the time of the incident.

Social media video appeared to show a fight between two students as the off-duty officer attempted to break it up before either being hit or falling backward. It appears he hits his head on the edge of a nearby table. Shortly after, he is seen on top of the student and appears to hold her head against the ground with one hand and place his knee on her neck, though it’s not clear for how long, as the cell phone footage ends shortly after.

The Kenosha Police Department confirmed he was an off-duty officer and said the 37-year-old has four years of experience with the department. CNN has reached out to the KPD to inquire on his current employment status there but has not gotten a response.

In a statement, the department said, “K.P.D. has watched the video clip and has seen the photo which has been widely shared on social media over the weekend. We are keenly aware of the significant sensitivity surrounding the photo. K.P.D., together with K.U.S.D. is investigating the incident in its entirety while being cautious not to make conclusions based off of a small piece of information shared on social media,” part of the statement read.

CNN is not naming the officer until his identity has been confirmed by either the police department or school district. Additionally, CNN is not naming the 12-year-old daughter as she is a minor.

CNN has attempted to reach the Kenosha officer who was involved in the incident but has not gotten a response. CNN also attempted to reach out to the Kenosha Professional Police Association for comment but did not get a response.

Father of 12-year-old angered by video

The 12-year-old’s father, Jerrel Perez, is angry.

“Looking at that picture, it destroyed me,” he told CNN Tuesday. “All it takes is just a little bit, especially for a 12-year-old girl. We’ve seen a grown man die from that same situation, just imagine a fragile 12-year-old’s neck,” he added in apparent reference to the killing of George Floyd.

Floyd was killed as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin applied sustained pressure from his knee to Floyd’s neck for more than nine consecutive minutes. This situation at Lincoln Middle School appeared to unfold in a matter of seconds and it’s unclear how long pressure may have been applied.

An initial school notification report, filled out by an assistant principal the day of the incident, describes what staff observed happened before, during and after “the incident,” along with the type of physical restraint used on the student. A redacted version of the report was provided by the family’s attorney.

In regards to the restraint used, the report indicates there was “pressure or weight on the student’s neck or throat, or an artery, or that otherwise obstruct the student’s circulation or breathing,” and the student was placed in a “prone position.”

The report also says the restraint did not cause any chest compression and there was adequate care to protecting the student’s head, despite a screenshot appearing to show the off-duty officer holding the student’s head to the ground.

According to Kenosha Unified School District policy, reasons why a physical restraint on a student would be permissible include a student presenting a “clear, present and imminent risk” to the safety of others, as long as it’s not a prohibited maneuver or technique.

However, among those prohibited maneuvers or techniques: one that would place “pressure or weight on the student’s neck or throat, on an artery, or on the back of the student’s head or neck, or that otherwise obstruct the student’s circulation or breathing,” and placing the student in a prone position “chest down, back up.”

The report indicated that before the incident, a “student engaged in a physical altercation with another female student.” Video released on social media picks up right in the middle of the altercation and does not show who or what may have started the fight.

“During the incident,” the school report read, the officer “witnessed the two students engage in a physical altercation and attempted to separate the students.” The officer then placed Perez’s daughter under arrest.

Perez says his daughter told him “when (the officer) was on her neck she kept telling him get off her neck, get off her neck because she couldn’t breathe because her face mask was on. And I asked her, ‘What did you feel?’ and she said, ‘I couldn’t breathe.'”

“She just said he had his knee on her neck until he cuffed her,” he added.

From the video released on social media, it’s unclear what was said between the officer and the student. Both the notification report and family attorney Drew DeVinney indicate the entire incident was recorded on surveillance video. The family told CNN they have yet to see the footage despite saying they requested it from the school. The school district has not released any surveillance video of the incident, citing an ongoing investigation.

The school notification report also read that after the incident, the “student was suspended and released into police custody.” It also confirms the incident involved law enforcement that was affiliated with the school district as a security guard.

Shortly after the altercation, Perez said his family eventually picked her up from a Kenosha Police station. He also said the school told him they would be laying out disciplinary steps for his daughter’s future — he replied that he would not be bringing her back to that school, Perez told CNN.

Perez said he was initially told that an officer had to get hospitalized, that the officer hit the back of his head and that his daughter punched the officer.

“When I got to my daughter, I said, ‘Hey you don’t fight, you don’t do this,’ she started telling me, ‘Dad, my neck hurts, my neck hurts.’ I wasn’t aware of any pictures or videos, so when we got home, I told her to go to her room like any parent would,” Perez told CNN. “My daughter kept complaining about her pain, I’m thinking she’s just trying to get out of punishment.”

Later on, he said another one of his daughters, who also attends the school, was sent video of the actual incident and she showed it to him. He said he was “shocked” and immediately took his 12 year old to the emergency room.

“They said she had a head injury and a neck sprain,” Perez said.

Police also confirmed to CNN Tuesday that a criminal charge of disorderly conduct has been referred to the Kenosha County District Attorney’s Office for “both juveniles involved in the incident.”

Family attorney Drew DeVinney says it’s now up to the DA’s office to decide whether to levy a formal charge and they haven’t been made aware of a decision just yet.

In an earlier statement provided to CNN the school district said, “The Kenosha Unified School District is aware of an incident that occurred between two students at Lincoln Middle School on Friday, March 4, 2022, that required intervention by KUSD staff, as well as assistance from the Kenosha Police Department. This part-time KUSD employee, who was hired as an off-duty Kenosha police officer, is currently on a paid leave from the district.”

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