A new surveillance video shows Chicago police officers pushing and dragging a student down a set of stairs at Marshall High School on the West Side before punching her and shocking her with a stun gun multiple times.
The video, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, appears to contradict the officers’ statements on how the incident unfolded, including that the student initiated the violent encounter — again raising questions of the oversight, training and stationing of police officers in Chicago Public Schools.
The two officers involved in the incident also held the student down while stepping on her chest, but they didn’t seek help from her father or other school personnel who were nearby, according to an amended lawsuit filed Thursday by the girl’s attorney, Andrew M. Stroth.
“The Board of Education and CPD continue to fail our children. An unarmed 16-year-old girl was beaten, kicked, punched and tasered by officers,” Stroth said in a statement.
The federal suit accuses the city, Chicago Public Schools and officers Johnnie Pierre and Sherry Tripp, who were assigned to the school, of violating 16-year-old Dnigma Howard’s civil rights.
Dnigma was initially charged with two felony counts of aggravated battery against the officers. The charges were dropped less than a week later “in the interest of justice,” prosecutors said at the time.
At her initial hearing, prosecutors said the officers were called to escort Dnigma off the school’s premises after she was suspended, but she refused to leave the building and kicked, bit and spit on the officers. Police said her actions led the three of them to fall down a flight of stairs, causing all three to be treated at local hospitals.
In Dnigma’s arrest report, the officers said she “became irate and initiated a physical altercation with the officers.”
“Those officers filed a false statement,” Stroth said. “Their statements are completely untrue and are completely contradicted by what is shown on the video. The saving grace for Dnigma is that this was caught on camera.”
Earlier footage of Dnigma’s encounter with the officers that was recorded on a cellphone by a student showed the officers using a stun gun on the girl, but did not show what led up to that point. In the new video taken from a second floor camera at the school, the officers and Dnigma walk into the frame around 9:47 a.m. on Jan. 29. The officers stand on either side of Dnigma as she talks to another student and gives her a hug. After that student walks away less than a minute later, Dnigma starts moving away from the stairwell. At that point, without physical provocation, an officer grabs Dnigma and pushes her down a set of stairs as she struggles. The other officer quickly follows and students gather around. There is no audio on the video.
Another security camera filming near a first-floor entrance then captured an officer pulling Dnigma down the bottom flight of stairs by her leg; another officer appears to be falling down the stairs while holding on to her from behind. She ends up on the floor near a metal detector, and an officer can be seen stepping on her chest while the other officer punches her. She is then shocked with a stun gun.
Dnigma previously acknowledged she resisted the officers — and she can be seen struggling as officers try to restrain her — but says she was responding to the officers’ actions.
“At no time during their contact with [Dnigma] did [police] seek assistance or involvement from any Marshall administration, staff members, or other security officers in escorting” her from the building, the suit states.
Dnigma’s father, Laurentio Howard, can be seen standing near the confrontation at the end of the video. Previously, he said he was told by police to step back and not intervene. He says he told police to stop what they were doing.
The amended complaint says her father was not allowed to escort his daughter out of the school or help de-escalate the situation.
Footage from the cops’ body cameras, which have not been made public, will also show the officer violated Dnigma’s rights, the suit says.
The officers’ actions violates CPS’ own rules for how police officers assigned to schools are supposed to interact with students, the girl’s attorney has said.
Both officers are no longer working at the school but remain in the 11th District. One is on “injury on duty” status, officials said.
Police spokesman Thomas Ahern said officials cannot comment on the new video since the incident is being investigated by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said the district’s inspector general is investigating.
“We are deeply disturbed and troubled by this incident which has no place in our schools,” she said in a statement.
A report from the Inspector General’s Office last year was critical of the way police officers are used in CPS schools, finding neither institution kept track of which schools the officers worked at and asserting that officers lacked specific training in how to approach conflicts with students.
A consent decree with police approved in January by a federal judge includes provisions for police to follow in incidents involving students.
Ahern said police are forming procedures for officers who work in schools.
“We have engaged CPS officials as well as parents, students and other community stakeholders for a series of community input meetings to help draft policy on CPD roles and responsibilities within Chicago Public Schools,” he said.
Stroth called on Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot to implement recommendations agreed to by Chicago police as part of a number of reforms, including working with CPS to define the responsibilities of school resource officers as part of a wide-ranging consent decree ordered by a federal judge.
“Mayor-elect Lightfoot needs to address the issue of police in schools immediately,” Stroth said. “The city of Chicago is now facing another federal lawsuit because the city has not addressed the findings of the Inspector General’s report and the consent decree recommendations on how to address the issue of police in schools.”