A former Helix Charter High School student is suing a La Mesa police officer and the city for excessive force and violating her civil rights.
In the suit filed Thursday, Brianna Bell, then a 17-year-old senior at the school, alleges La Mesa police School Resource Officer Scott Wulfing used excessive force when arresting and removing her from campus. The suit further alleges the city of La Mesa ignored similar actions by Wulfing and other officers and failed to discipline its officers.
The city said it has hired a neutral third party to investigate the incident but the investigation was on hold because the investigator has not been able to talk to Bell about the incident.
Bell, who has since graduated and is attending college out of state, was arrested Jan. 19 after she refused to leave the school. She was suspended from school the previous day for having pepper spray in her purse but was on campus for a scheduled appointment with the school’s principal, according to the complaint.
After the meeting, the principal ordered Bell to leave the school, but she wanted to talk to one of her teachers before leaving, the suit said. That was when the principal, Paula Trevino, called the La Mesa Police Department to remove Bell from campus.
Officer Wulfing responded and asked Bell to leave or be arrested, Bell then handed the officer her cell phone and held out her wrists to be handcuffed, according to the suit.
A video shared through social media shows Wulfing threw Bell down to the ground while escorting her off campus handcuffed. The suit alleges the handcuffs were on “painfully tight” and Bell told the officer he was hurting her when he “angrily pulled her in the direction he wanted her to walk.”
The suit also alleges Wulfing “body-slammed” Bell to the ground and pulled her by her handcuffed arms to her feet and then body-slammed her again. The second time was caught on cell phone video.
Bell was arrested for trespassing and resisting arrest but the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office declined to press charges against her, according to the suit.
A D.A. spokeswoman said the office does not discuss charging decisions but said the office only accepts cases when they can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Bell is suing for unspecified damages, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery, and violation her civil rights.
La Mesa Police Department declined to comment on the story because of pending litigation. In January, La Mesa police spokesman Lt. Chad Bell told NBC 7 the officer used force to “to prevent the student from escaping.”
Wulfing has been on administrative duties since the incident.
Bell, through her attorney, declined to be interviewed for this story at this time saying she is currently concentrating on her studies.
The city of La Mesa also declined to comment until it has evaluated the lawsuit.