BROCKTON, Mass. — A Massachusetts school police officer has been placed on leave after video surfaced of him kneeling on a student’s neck and back while handcuffing him during an arrest at a high school on Wednesday, officials said.
The officer, who hasn’t been identified, was placed on paid leave and Police Chief Emanuel Gomes has launched an investigation into the incident, Superintendent of Schools Michael Thomas said in a robocall to families.
“The police department is gathering all available videos from cellphones and surveillance cameras in the area,” Thomas said. “The officer has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.”
Several videos of the incident at Brockton High School surfaced on social media platforms on Wednesday. The videos show a student facedown on the pavement outside the high school, with an officer kneeling on his upper back and neck to restrain him while placing the student in handcuffs.
“Why are you on his neck?” a student can clearly be heard asking the officer in one video of the incident.
A Brockton police spokesperson said the investigation “is to determine whether the officer followed proper rules and procedures.”
Thomas said the incident occurred during lunch Wednesday afternoon and that the student seen in handcuffs was being arrested after he allegedly physically attacked another student. Police say the student was charged with assault and battery and released to his parents.
“The video depicts the moment the student is being handcuffed and the way the student is being restrained during the arrest has been cause for great concern,” the superintendent said.
Thomas said the video “was painful to watch — particularly given its historical context,” referring to video of convicted ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck in 2020, which resulted in his death.
Joseph Giacalone, a retired New York City Police Department detective sergeant and adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said it’s hard to fully assess the situation without seeing a complete video of the encounter, including whether there was any struggle prior to where the videos begin.
“The optics on it are terrible in light of the George Floyd-Derek Chauvin case,” he said.
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Giacalone said making arrests are very difficult and officers might get caught in the heat of the moment, doing anything in their power to keep the person under control.
“But this has to go through the mind of every cop out there to avoid this kind of behavior,” he said. “It’s nowhere as egregious as the Floyd case because it’s just a short period of time.”
Last December, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a police reform bill — An Act relative to justice, equity and accountability in law enforcement in the Commonwealth — into law. It bans chokeholds and says, “A law enforcement officer shall not be trained to use a lateral vascular neck restraint, carotid restraint or other action that involves the placement of any part of law enforcement officer’s body on or around a person’s neck in a manner that limits the person’s breathing or blood flow.”
“There is no argument that his knee was on his back near the neck and, if so, that maneuver would be banned by this law,” Giacalone said.
Based on the new police reform law, he said the officer could potentially face legal penalties.
“The district attorney will need to look at the entire video and not just this short clip,” he said.
The Enterprise, part of the USA TODAY Network, asked a Brockton police spokesperson whether officers have done any specific training on the new police reform law, but didn’t immediately receive a response.
Brockton High School Principal Cynthia Burns, who assumed her role in late-October following several incidents at the school, including a couple gun-related events, provided a space for concerned students on Thursday to discuss what happened and express their feelings about the incident.
“I can hear some of you in the background of the video voicing your concerns about how the student is being restrained and I’ve heard from several students and parents who are upset after watching the video at home,” Burns wrote in an email to students on Wednesday. “I know that your sense of safety has been shaken throughout the fall and I am sorry if this latest incident has added to your pain.”
Follow Cody Shepard on Twitter at @cshepard_ENT.