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CPS student dragged down steps by CPD officers graduates; emotional scars remain

As the George Floyd killing reignites the debate over whether police should be allowed in schools, we catch up with single dad Laurentio Howard and daughter Dnigma, who graduated from Chicago Public Schools last month. She was 16 when she was shoved down school stairs by Chicago Police officers stationed at Marshall Metropolitan High School, a case that drew national headlines.

Single dad Laurentio Howard and his daughter, Dnigma Howard, 18, stand outside their Near North Side home on Saturday, June 20, 2020. Dnigma was 16 when she was shoved down the stairs and Tased by Chicago police officers stationed within Marshall Metropolitan High School in a January 2019 incident that drew national headlines. She recently graduated from her CPS school.
Single dad Laurentio Howard with his daughter Dnigma Howard, 18, stand outside their Near West Side home on June 20. Dnigma, 16 when she was shoved down the stairs and tased by Chicago police officers stationed within Marshall Metropolitan High School in a January 2019 incident that drew national headlines, just graduated from the Chicago Public Schools.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Laurentio Howard shudders whenever he recalls the video of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin with his hands in his pockets as George Floyd suffocated under his knees.

But the trauma of watching that video doesn’t compare to that experienced by his 18-year-old daughter, Dnigma Howard, who shudders every time she sees police, he says.

Dnigma can’t get past the day she was shoved into a stairway by a Chicago Police officer stationed within Marshall Metropolitan High School — then dragged by her leg down two flights of 30 stone steps with sharp metal edges.

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“It was unreal, to tell you the truth, as a Black man — actually seeing the police officer taking George Floyd’s life, and his last words, him calling out for his mother,” the father, of the Near West Side, said last week, as he shared photos of his daughter’s graduation from Innovations High School, a Chicago Public Schools charter.

“Watching the Floyd video, I felt hurt, afraid, just thinking it could have been me, because I was there at Marshall. To have to stand back, to not be able to help my daughter being brutalized by officers sworn to protect her, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced,” said Howard, a sheet metal worker with the city of Chicago.

As the killing of Floyd reignites national debate over police in schools — with at least four major cities eliminating the controversial practice — we caught up with Howard, a 49-year-old single dad, and his daughter, who graduated May 20.

The Chicago Sun-Times has learned the mayor’s office has summoned lawyers and community stakeholders involved in the federal consent decree addressing racism in the Chicago Police Department to a 2 p.m. meeting Monday, focused on police-in-schools reforms.

Sources said the mayor is forming a committee to begin tackling reforms in this arena.

Dnigma Howard, 18, graduated on May 20 from Innovations High School, a Chicago Public Schools charter. She plans to attend Malcolm X College in the fall to pursue an Associate’s degree in business.
Dnigma Howard, 18, graduated May 20 from Innovations High School, a Chicago Public Schools charter. She plans to attend Malcolm X College in the fall to pursue an associate’s degree in business.
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Dnigma, who attended school with an Individualized Education Plan — mandated for special needs students — was 16 when the incident occurred Jan. 29, 2019, over the student using her cellphone in class. A federal civil rights lawsuit filed by her father is pending.

Cellphone video taken by another student of the violent response by the two officers — contradicting police reports — surfaced after the incident. After it was published by the Sun-Times, Officers Johnny Pierre and Sherry Tripp were immediately removed from the school.

Two felony counts of aggravated battery lodged against the girl were subsequently dropped by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

“I just really couldn’t believe how my daughter was the one beaten like that, then charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor, and taken to jail. All I could think was, ‘She’s 16, and her life is destroyed,’” her father said.

“If her friend hadn’t taken that cellphone video, I wouldn’t have been able to send it to the media after police and CPS lied about what happened,” he said. “Once we got the surveillance camera, I was so happy the world could see the officer lied on my daughter.”

The police report accused Dnigma of initiating the incident, causing her and the two officers to fall down the stairs. The video shows Pierre initiating contact, shoving her into the stairway, then dragging her down. Officers later Tased her three times.

Dnigma’s father chatted after a failed effort by aldermen to bring an ordinance before the City Council terminating the $33 million contract between Chicago Public Schools and CPD last week.

Opposed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the ordinance was sent to where legislation dies.

A day later, the independent monitor overseeing the federal consent decree revealed the city missed over 70 percent of court-ordered deadlines in the decree — including those to provide school officers with training in cultural competency and de-escalation techniques.

Unmet requirements also include defining the role of such officers, and screening criteria.

“If this isn’t a prime example of the problem with police in schools, I don’t know what is,” said Dnigma’s father. “You can clearly see the female officer punching my daughter in the face as she struggles at the bottom of the stairs, the male officer standing on her chest and legs.”

Laurentio Howard, whose daughter was dragged down two flights of stairs by Chicago police officers stationed within Marshall Metropolitan High School in January 2019, reflects after a failed effort by aldermen to bring an ordinance before the City Council ending police in schools. That debate has reignited nationally after George Floyd’s killing.
Laurentio Howard, whose daughter was dragged down two flights of stairs by Chicago police officers stationed within Marshall Metropolitan High School in January 2019, reflects after a failed effort by aldermen to bring an ordinance before the City Council ending police in schools. That debate has reignited nationally after George Floyd’s killing.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A year and a half later, investigations into the officers’ conduct by the state’s attorney’s office and Office of Police Accountability continue.

“We are still investigating and are committed to a full and thorough investigation,” said Ephraim Eaddy, spokesman for COPA. “However, since this case involves a juvenile, I cannot comment further.”

CPD News Affairs spokeswoman Michelle Tannehill said Sunday both officers remain on “full duty status.” It was unclear whether CPS had completed its own investigation by its Office of Inspector General.

“The CPS OIG has not provided the district with an update on the status of the investigation or findings since it was referred to the OIG in February 2019,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said Sunday.

The Chicago Teachers Union plans a rally of CPS staff, parents and students Wednesday, continuing its call for removal of police from schools. Activists cite the direct impact on the school-to-prison pipeline found in studies, calling for spending to be redirected to student support services. Lightfoot says the decision should be left to local school councils.

Howard, whose daughter has suffered much tragedy, cringes at the thought of such an incident happening to another student. Dnigma had struggled, after her 13-year-old brother, Darriel, died from an asthma attack when she was 9. And her mother died June 2, just two weeks after Dnigma’s high-school graduation.

“I’m all she has now,” her father said.

“To this day, she cannot sleep a full night from the nightmare of what happened that day. She wakes up screaming, so I’m in her room in the middle of the night, calming her. We’re still going to counseling,” he said.

“No child should go through such police violence, and the emotional scarring — all over the use of a cellphone in class?”

Single dad Laurentio Howard with his daughter, Dnigma Howard, in February, as the two quarantined in their Near West Side home during the coronavirus pandemic. Dnigma graduated May 20 from Innovations High School.
Single dad Laurentio Howard with his daughter, Dnigma Howard, in February, as the two quarantined in their Near West Side home during the coronavirus pandemic. Dnigma graduated May 20 from Innovations High School.
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