While police officers were investigating an incident at a La Mesa high school involving a suspended student and a campus police officer, students gathered outside the high school to protest on Monday.
On Sunday, La Mesa Police Department Lt. Chad Bell said the department is in possession of video that shows a 17-year-old Helix Charter High School student “being taken to the ground” after attempting to break free from a La Mesa Police School Resource Officer at about 1:30 p.m. Friday.
Bell said his department works conscientiously to protect the community, and understands that the video has caused “fear and anger” among some students and residents.
“We understand that, we are sympathetic to that,” Bell told NBC 7. “And that is why we’ve made the investigation our absolute and number one priority of the administration to investigate as quickly as possible.”
Bell urged protestors not to judge the officer or his department on the basis of a video snippet of the incident now being shared on social media.
“We’ve got to look at the incident from the beginning to the end, and see the totality of the whole circumstance” that gave rise to the officer’s use of force, he said.
The teenager was under suspension but was on campus Friday for unknown reasons, Bell said. School officials called the campus officer, who asked her twice to leave school grounds. She refused both times.
The student was placed under arrest.
As the two began walking towards the school’s office, the student tried to break free from the officer on two separate occasions, Bell said.
That is when the officer forced the student to the ground.
The teenager was then walked to a patrol vehicle and transported to LMPD, where she was evaluated by paramedics.
The student received minor scrapes in the altercation, Bell said. The officer was not injured.
Bell said the use of force was used “to prevent the student from escaping.”
But Bishop Cornelius Bowser, of the Community Assistance Support Team, said the incident fuels anger in the minority community, where some residents feel police do not respect their rights.
“And we find that especially within communities of color, they seem to be treated one way, versus the way other communities are being treated, and we ask that everyone be treated with dignity and respect,” Bowser said Monday.
Several students also spoke at the morning protest rally, including Destiny Tuiaei, a Helix senior who told the crowd she was not shocked by the officer’s actions.
“If anything, I am more heartbroken by this," she said. "I’ve gotten used to police officers using their power and excessive force to make students feel useless.”
At the rally students were demanding the officer be removed from his position and asking that policies be put in place to make sure a similar event does not happen again.
“We demand that the officer be removed from his position as school resources officer,” said Helix HS senior Leah Blake, adding that policies should be put in place to make sure this does not happen again.
Blake described the student involved in the incident as a classmate who has been a kind and sweet girl in the four years she's known her.
Blake, who was not at school at the time of the incident, saw the video via Snapchat.
Kevin Osborn, Executive Director of Helix Charter High School, issued a statement Monday.
"Incidents involving students or student disciplinary matters are confidential," Osborn said. "As such, Helix Charter High School is not at liberty to discuss information regarding student incidents. We want to assure the community that actions taken by the School are guided by what is lawful and in the best interests of Helix Charter High School students, staff, and school community."
The student’s parents will be meeting with the administration and with attorneys, according to a woman who represented herself as a spokesperson for the student’s family.
Helix Charter High School is located on University Avenue and is part of the Grossmont Union High School District.