Fall River School Resource Officers Cleared of Excessive Use of Force
The School Resource Officers involved an investigation into excessive use of force at a Fall River school have been cleared of any wrongdoing.
The incident took place on Thursday, May 2 at the Resiliency Preparatory Academy, located at 290 Rock Street. A 17-year-old male student, after being informed he was going to be suspended, became disruptive. A video was posted to YouTube that appeared to show the student being punched in the head and neck area three times by one of the two School Resource Officers that responded to the disturbance.
The student was released to his parents and will be summonsed to court to face charges filed by the Fall River Police Department.
Superintendent Matthew Malone worked with police to examine surveillance footage and conduct interviews to get a complete picture of what occurred.
In addition, the Fall River Police Office of Professional Standards also reviewed the footage, as well as the video posted to social media, and conducted its own investigation based on use of force in subduing the student.
Both Malone and the OPS released their findings on Tuesday.
“To be clear, I believe that we are upset with what occurred on this day and what was captured on cell phone video,” Malone said. “However, I deal with facts, not emotion, and I am obligated to provide an objective review to determine if we followed proper protocol and procedures.”
According to Malone’s report, the student had become “non-responsive to repeated requests to follow school rules, was non-compliant to verbal requests, and who became increasingly belligerent by verbally threatening several faculty and staff in the hallway, before entering a classroom.”
Malone said the student’s father was called to the school to help de-escalate the situation, which had proven successful in the past with this particular student.
“During the time that lapsed before the parent’s arrival, the student left class without permission and walked to the main office where he continued to be unruly and disruptive in a threatening manner, including kicking the Vice Principal’s office chair across the room, and making repeated threats towards staff,” Malone said.
Malone said the student became “increasingly combative and aggressive” and “agitated and hostile.” As a result, the School Resource Officers were called in to assist in the main office.
The student remained combative, and his behavior escalated. As the video shows, the student then “forcefully knocked school property off of the front desk” and as the SROs attempted to escort him out of the building to await the arrival of his father, the student became aggressive toward them, and a physical confrontation ensued.
“Following my investigation of the FRPS response, I have determined that appropriate policy, procedures, and best practices were utilized in response to the given situation. The FRPS staff acted professionally and appropriately in the face of a challenging situation to de-escalate a student demonstrating ‘out of control’ and aggressive behavior, and to provide him with multiple opportunities to modify his behavior,” Malone said. “Although the video of the altercation is difficult to watch and we all clearly wish the entire confrontation could have been avoided, the SROs did follow their defensive tactic procedures and applied a response to a physical altercation that was learned through training and governed through FRPD regulations.”
All use of force incidents are reviewed through the chain of command and forwarded to the Office of Professional Standards, which put out its own report. The OPS said it “carefully examined” surveillance video “frame by frame, especially during the moment that triggered the use of force.”
According to the OPS, at one point, “the student braces the door frame and is in close proximity to the officers, eventually pushing him backward into the door. The door was being propped open, and the force at which the officer was pushed back caused the door to become dislodged from the stopper. This behavior is considered assaultive and at that time the officers attempted to detain the student, who further resisted and disobeyed verbal commands.”
“During the struggle, the student still remained resistant and forced him and the officers near the stairs. This created a very dangerous situation for the student and officers. The student and one officer lost their balance and tumbled down the stairs to a landing,” the report stated.
From there, the OPS went on to examine social media video posted of the incident
“When this video is played at a slower speed, it is clear that the officer was striking the upper left shoulder blade area of the student. According to Massachusetts Municipal Police Training Committee (MPTC) standards and the policy of the Fall River Police Department, this is considered a justifiable use of force and an appropriate area to strike. Review of video surveillance footage after the incident showed no apparent injuries to the student’s face and no injuries were reported.”
The OPS report also stated that the officers could have chosen to use baton strikes or a taser, as well as further physical hand strikes, to subdue the student. However, the officers chose to continue to use the strikes to the shoulder instead.
The report also stated that “the officers used even more discretion by electing to summons the student instead of physical arrest and subjecting him to the booking process at the police department.”