Newly released surveillance footage appears to show Chicago police officers tackling a student, dragging her down a flight of stairs and using a stun gun on her in a January altercation.
The school surveillance video, released Thursday by Chicago ABC station WLS, captured a Jan. 29 altercation between 16-year-old Dnigma Howard and two Chicago police officers.
The footage contradicts the Chicago Police Department’s assertion that Dnigma attacked the officers first, causing all three to fall down the stairs.
“The reports given by the officers completely contradict the objective evidence shown in the video,” Dnigma’s lawyer, Andrew M. Stroth, told HuffPost over the phone on Friday.
Stroth, whose firm Action Injury Law Group specializes in cases of police brutality, is representing Dnigma and her family in a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education, the City of Chicago and the two officers involved in the altercation. The lawsuit was amended on Thursday to include evidence from the surveillance footage, Stroth said.
Dnigma, a Marshall High School student, can be seen in the video standing on the landing next to the officers. As she begins to walk away, one of the officers aggressively grabs her, wrestles her to the stairway, and drags her down the steps by one leg. At the bottom of the stairs, one officer appears to hold Dnigma down while the other punches and uses a stun gun on her.
WARNING: The footage below may be distressing to some viewers.
Dnigma was “traumatized” by the incident, Stroth said. As a student previously identified as having behavioral challenges, there was “an independent educational plan” and protocol in place for her, the attorney noted.
CPD Deputy Director Thomas Ahern said Friday the department could not comment “on the specifics of the incident or the investigation” because it falls under the jurisdiction of COPA, or the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
“We hold our officers to the highest level of professional standards. CPD will remain guided by the facts of the investigation,” Ahern said in a statement to HuffPost.
Prosecutors initially charged Dnigma with two felony counts of aggravated battery and two misdemeanor counts of resisting and obstructing a peace officer. The charges were later dropped.
Laurentio Howard, the girl’s father, said he was present at the time of the altercation and saw his daughter punched and tased by the officers.
“I thought maybe they were going to try to choke her out or she would lose consciousness or something like that,” he told WLS on Thursday. “They had their foot on her chest. She has asthma, she’s telling me she can’t breathe.”
The two officers ― one male and one female ― have 96 and 91 percent more instances of excessive force relative to other members within the CPD, respectively, according to data from the Invisible Institute, a Chicago-based journalism group that seeks to hold public institutions accountable.
One of the officers has been reassigned and the other is on medical leave as a result of the Jan. 29 altercation, CPD told HuffPost on Friday.
“I think the officers should absolutely be at a minimum disciplined,” Stroth said on Friday. “And if the statements they made under oath are found to be false … the Chicago Police Department needs to consider termination.”
The CPD has come under close scrutiny in recent years in the wake of the fatal 2015 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Officer Jason Van Dyke. U.S. District Judge Robert Dow on Jan. 31 approved a consent decree aimed at police reform that includes specific provisions for officers to follow in incidents involving students.
Ahern said the department has engaged school district officials, parents, students and other community stakeholders “for a series of community input meetings to help draft policy on CPD roles & responsibilities within Chicago Public Schools” in compliance with the consent decree.
As for Dnigma’s federal civil rights case, Stroth said he hopes it “can be a catalyst for change within the Chicago public school system.”
“It is our hope and expectation that Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot will use this moment in time to address the issue of policing in schools,” he said.