Editor’s note: SAISD released the following statement on Friday morning, confirming that investigators are looking into the alleged use of excessive force by a campus police officer. 

“The District is continuing today to investigate the Rhodes Middle School incident. We anticipate that we will have all of the reports and information we need by the end of the day to help us determine what actions we will take in response to the incident. And we expect to finalize decisions on appropriate actions to take by early next week.

Through our investigation, we are seeking details on what led up to this incident and how it was handled. This goes beyond the officer’s handling of the situation to examine the administrative response as well. We are working to interview as many witnesses as possible, to ensure we take the appropriate action. We do not tolerate excessive force in this District.”

San Antonio Independent School District officials have opened an investigation into an incident at Rhodes Middle School captured on a smart phone camera that shows an uniformed campus police officer physically picking up a pre-teen student, body slamming her to the ground, placing her in handcuffs while she lies face down on the ground, and then leading her away. The incident is said to have occurred Tuesday, March 29 outside the school building at the Westside campus.

A video of the incident was posted on the local online blog Ghost-0 and has been widely shared on social media. Another student can be heard on the video asking the student if she okay, but any response she made cannot be heard. The video identifies the girl as a 12-year-old student, but SAISD has not released her identity.

“District administration learned late last night about the video and this incident,” said district spokesperson Leslie Price on April 6. “This video is very concerning and we are working to get the details to what occurred. We have launched an official investigation.”

On April 7, SAISD released this statement:

 “The District launched an investigation yesterday into the incident shown on the video that occurred at Rhodes Middle School. It’s important that the investigation be done appropriately and in a timely manner.  Texas state law requires an investigation to be conducted following a complaint filed against an officer, before that officer can be subject to any disciplinary action. The officer was placed on leave Wednesday morning, pending the outcome of the investigation. We are working to interview as many witnesses as possible, to ensure we take the appropriate action.”

Officer Joshua Kehm, the subject of the investigation, has been a district officer since March 2015. Students interviewed at the campus by the Rivard Report said Kehm has a history of inappropriate physical discipline, especially with female students. The parent of one of the school’s teachers said his daughter made the same observation to him.

Christina Amador stands next to her vehicle after picking up her children from Rhodes Middle School Roy, 14 and Jacelle, 13. Photo by Scott Ball.
Christina Amador stands next to her vehicle after picking up her children from Rhodes Middle School Roy, 14 and Jacelle, 13. Photo by Scott Ball.

According to Christina Amador and her 13-year-old daughter, Jacelle Amador, a Rhodes 7th grader, this isn’t Kehm’s first negative interaction with a female student.

“(Jacelle) said that when boys fight (Kehm) doesn’t treat them like that, it’s like he’s scared, but he’s rough with the girls (when they fight),” Christina said.

None of the school’s administrators or teachers, she added, informed students or parents about the altercation that was captured on video.

Christina’s son Roy, 14, is also a 7th grader at the school who said that the girl is one of his friends. Neither he nor Jacelle actually witnessed the incident, and have only heard from the student, who has yet to return to school, via social media.

“I didn’t know that it had happened, but the next day everybody was talking about it at school and I saw the video,” Jacelle said. “(The student in the video) posted on Snapchat that her head was hurting and that she had a big bruise.”

First year Principal Chris Castro walks back to Rhodes Middle School from the parking lot. Photo by Scott Ball.
First year Principal Christopher Castro walks back into Rhodes Middle School from the parking lot. Photo by Scott Ball.

It could not be immediately determined if the school’s principal or other district officials have received prior complaints about Kehm’s treatment of students, and if so, whether those reports were acted on, or if Kehm has been previously disciplined.

School Principal Christopher Castro declined to speak to a reporter on Wednesday, and referred all inquiries to the district’ central office.

Family members of the student have posted remarks on Facebook, and are quoted on the blog as saying that the girl was having a confrontational conversation with her friend when the officer intervened. A Facebook user who identified himself  the student’s older cousin stated that it appeared the two girls were on the verge of fighting when the officer moved in. The girl’s mother is quoted on the Ghost-0 site as saying the conversation with her friend was peaceful and that her daughter now suffers from headaches.

Price said Kehm was placed on paid leave this morning pending the outcome of the investigation. District officials said they are committed to establishing exactly what happened, but do not intend to release details until the investigation is complete.

“We’re not going to tolerate excessive force, by any means,” Price said.

Henry Rodriguez, executive director of the local chapter of League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), heard about the incident yesterday from Patti Radle, president of the SAISD board. He said several concerned LULAC members came to him to express frustration.

“My people are wanting (Kehm) to be fired immediately, and I tend to (agree) with them,” he said. “(San Antonio police) by and large are law-abiding people, but there’s always those bad apples that ruin it for others.”

Rodriguez is hoping that more specific details about the encounter emerge in the investigation, and is counting on the district to “do what they have to do” when it comes to reaching a proper solution.

“I hope this investigation goes by quick. … Everybody talks about kids being disrespectful,” he said, but that’s no excuse for excessive force.

LULAC Concilio Zapatista 4383 Founder Henry Rodriguez stands in front of Rhodes Middle School after receiving multiple calls about the situation. Photo by Scott Ball.
LULAC Executive Director Henry Rodriguez stands in front of Rhodes Middle School after receiving multiple calls about a physical altercation between a campus police officer and a female student. Photo by Scott Ball.

This story has been updated with information provided by SAISD on Thursday morning and Rivard Report reporter Camille Garcia, who performed interviews at the school.

https://rivardreport.wildapricot.org

 CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the officer involved as one of SAPD. The officer involved is an SAISD officer. 

Top image: A smart phone video taken by an unidentified bystander first posted on the Ghost-0 blog.

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Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.