A video of a San Antonio, Texas, school police officer body-slamming a 12-year-old girl on March 29 that went viral resulted in the officer’s termination on Monday.
Joshua Kehm, the 27-year-old former officer, was fired, “effective immediately,” a statement from the San Antonio Independent School District reported.
The video shows Kehm throwing 12-year-old Janissa Valdez on the sidewalk at Rhodes Middle School, face-first, and then pinning her arms behind her back. He handcuffed the girl before escorting her away. Janissa suffered swelling on the side of her head, headaches and bruising.
The school district placed Kehm, who had been in position since February 2015, on paid administrative leave during the initial inquiry, but that changed this week.
San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez said, “We understand that situations can sometimes escalate to the point of requiring a physical response; however, in this situation we believe that the extent of the response was absolutely unwarranted.”
The incident began because Janissa and another student were having a verbal altercation and other students gathered for a potential fight. But according to Janissa, she had no intention of engaging the other girl physically.
“I was going up to her to tell her, ‘Let’s go somewhere else so we could talk,’ but that’s when the cop thought I was going at her,” she said. “I wasn’t going to do anything.”
Martinez also reported that Kehm’s report of the incident was not only filed late but was inconsistent with what the video showed. Kehm originally reported that Janissa fell, rather than was slammed, during the altercation.
“We want to be clear that we will not tolerate this behavior,” Martinez affirmed.
Kehm also alleged that the girl tried to kick him and told Gloria Valdez, Janissa’s mother, “You know I can press charges on your daughter.” But according to Raul Valdez III, Janissa’s father, Kehm came up behind his daughter, and Janissa mistook this as an attack, the New York Times reported.
Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the civil rights organization the Advancement Project, pointed to the incident as part of a larger problem. “How many students of color must be brutalized by police officers in their schools before we recognize the pattern” she questioned.
“It is unconscionable for a 12-year-old student involved in a verbal altercation to be brutalized and dehumanized in this manner,” Dianis said. “Once again, a video captured by a student offers a sobering reminder that we cannot entrust school police officers to intervene in school disciplinary matters that are best suited for trained educators and counselors.”
Some people have come out in support of Kehm; after the announcement of his termination, a group of Rhodes Middle School students wore white to school in solidarity with Kehm. Blue Lives Matter reported the act on its Facebook page and also wrote, “We stand behind Officer Joshua Kehm who was fired today. In a San Antonio, TX middle school, Officer Kehm was filmed subduing an irate and violent female student by taking her to the ground. After a brief investigation Officer Kehm was given the opportunity to resign or be fired. He refused to resign so the San Antonio Independent School District terminated him.”
However, Martinez emphasized the sensitive nature of the incident and assured no “perception of bias” will interfere with the investigation.
“We recognize the high level of emotion generated by this incident, and we want to ensure the public’s trust in this investigation, that it is being conducted without any perception of bias,” he said.
“We know that this incident does not define our District police department, which is dedicated to serving and protecting our school community,” he added. “We all want to make sure this kind of incident does not occur again, and we will seek to identify areas where improvement may be needed.”
The incident echoes others of police officers using excessive force on minors — including in other schools — where the act was caught on video. Richland, S.C., Senior Deputy Ben Fields was fired in October for violently arresting a young Black girl in her classroom after flipping the student’s desk over while she was still sitting in it, which fellow students filmed. In September, nine police officers manhandled a Black, unarmed 16-year-old for walking in the bus lane. And in June, another incident occurred in Texas, this one at a pool party. Cpl. Eric Casebolt was caught on camera assaulting a 15-year-old Black teenager, who was wearing a bathing suit at the time of the attack, and drawing his weapon on other Black teens at the party. Casebolt eventually resigned following the incident.