Two school officers and Baltimore Schools Police Chief Marshall Goodwin were put on administrative leave Wednesday as the Baltimore Police Department began investigating a deeply-troubling video of an officer slapping, kicking, and cursing a teenager which is going viral around the country.
CBS Baltimore WJZ first brought the video to the public and the attention of the school on Tuesday. The four-second video was recorded earlier that morning at REACH! Partnership School in East Baltimore by another student with a cell phone.
The 16-year-old victim of the assault, who will not be identified to protect his identity as a minor, appears to have his back against the wall as an officer yells and aggressively strikes him three times on or near the sides of his face before kicking him in the lower abdomen. A second officer can be seen standing at his side and watching.
The officer who strikes the teenager is clearly wearing a service weapon, which raises other questions because this is prohibited in Baltimore schools by Maryland state law.
Both the officer and the student he struck appear to be black in the video.
Akil Hamm, the acting chief of school police, asked the BPD to conduct the primary investigation. He has not yet addressed why Marshall Goodman has been put on leave.
“This is the right thing to do in a case like this and I have assigned S.I.R.T. [Special Investigations Response Team] to handle all aspects of this criminal investigation,” said Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.
The Baltimore Sun reports that the State Attorney’s Office will be working closely with the special investigators from the BPD. Police will also provide a liaison to help with the internal affairs investigation held by Baltimore City Schools Police.
School officials reportedly told WBAL news that said the young man in the video does not attend the school and did not have permission to be on the property.
“No, this is not a student at REACH. (He’s) someone who was apparently on the property and did not have permission to be on the property,” said Karl Perry, chief school supports officer.
But a lawyer for the young man told the 11 News I-Team Wednesday afternoon that he is a student at the school and they have school records to prove it. The lawyer said they believe officers made a mistake identifying the 16-year-old as an intruder, calling the incident an “unprovoked assault” that resulted in facial injuries.
Attorney Lauren Geisser told the Baltimore Sun that she was able to obtain enrollment documents for the 10th grade victim. He was treated for bruised ribs as well as the damage he received to his face.
Geisser said she, the youth and his parents went to the school Wednesday to speak to Principal James Gresham but were told he was in a meeting. Geisser said the parents wanted assurances that their child would be safe if he walked into the school.
“We waited for a significant period of time,” Geisser said. “You would think the principal would want an open line of communication on this issue.
The mayor of Baltimore and the CEO of Baltimore City Schools Police have both condemned the violence uncovered in the video. Police seem to be in agreement that this is an instance of “excessive force.”
WJZ reports that a Fraternal Order of Police lawyer for the officer said the 16-year-old became belligerent when asked to leave the property. He said there’s more to the story than the video shows, but did not explain any other details.
WBAL reports that this is the second problem Baltimore city schools police have had with excessive force in the past 13 months.
Last January, an 11 News I-Team investigation revealed an incident in which school police Officer Lakisha Pulley hit and injured a middle school student with her baton. Pulley was criminally prosecuted.
At City Hall on Wednesday, the video brought an audible groan from the mayor.
“As a parent of a Baltimore City school student, I was appalled by what I saw. The behavior that was demonstrated on the video is certainly something you never want to see,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said.
Acting chief Hamm has not released the name of the officers involved in the beating, but the one hitting the boy was identified by other sources as Anthony Spence. Hamm told the media that, to his knowledge, neither of the officers had a record of misconduct.
Spence does have a questionable background, however. He was fired from his previous law enforcement job as city deputy sheriff in 2002 for beating and tasing an innocent man, an immigrant from El Salvador, in a case where he mistook the man on his lunch break for a bank robber. A year later he began his current job as a school police officer.
In 2011 Spence had a temporary protective order filed against him alleging domestic violence.
Students at REACH! say that Spence was a harsh disciplinarian.
“There has been occasions where students will say that he’s aggressive,” student Steven Anderson told WJZ.
Activists and community members are outraged by the excessive violence used on youth in Baltimore city schools. Some have called on the DOJ to investigate and encourage reform on the school police the same way the municipal BPD has been scrutinized.