A school security officer held his knee on a 12-year-old girl's neck for more than 20 seconds while breaking up a fight at a school in Kenosha, Wisconsin, earlier this month, according to surveillance footage.
Released by the Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) on Friday, the video of the March 4 incident shows the officer, Shawn Guetschow, pulling apart two students fighting in the Lincoln Middle School cafeteria. The video then shows him holding one of them on the ground, pressing his knee on her neck for more than 20 seconds.
The school surveillance footage was released following sustained public pressure on the school district over the incident, which was caught on cellphone camera and subsequently went viral.
Drew DeVinney, an attorney representing the girl's father, Jerrel Perez, told BuzzFeed News in a statement that his client was "appalled" by the video.
"Officer Guetschow gripped his hand around Mr. Perez's daughter's neck and pushed her neck and head into the cafeteria floor. He then placed his knee on her neck and knelt down with the full weight of his body for an unconscionable duration," he said. "This was a cruel and heartless act of violence aimed at a child and is unacceptable in our society."
In addition to his job as a school security officer, Guetschow has been an officer with the Kenosha Police Department for four years. He was not on duty for the department while working at the school. The school district initially placed him on paid leave after the incident, but he resigned March 15, citing the "mental and emotional strain" it has caused his family, as well as the school district's "lack of communication and/or support."
The Kenosha Police Department said Saturday evening that he was still employed with the department, adding, "We continue our investigation, paying careful attention to the entire scope of the incident."
Law enforcement chokeholds were banned in Wisconsin "except in life-threatening situations or in self-defense" in June 2021. It was part of a series of police reform bills that Wisconsin passed in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests over George Floyd's murder in 2020.
At a March 16 press conference, the girl's father said he plans to sue Guetschow, the Kenosha Unified School District, and the Kenosha Police Department.
"She's humiliated, she's traumatized," Perez said about his daughter. "Every day I gotta hear, 'Daddy, I don't want to go to school.'"
Tanya Ruder, a spokesperson for KUSD, declined to comment further to BuzzFeed News, citing potential legal action.
Perez also said he wants Guetschow to face criminal charges. "If it was me or another parent or any adult that put their knee on a kid, that would be abuse," he said. "Why does that make you any different?"
DeVinney said the girl was evaluated at the hospital for neck injuries and concussion symptoms after the incident. Perez said that she was receiving therapy and is expected to see a neurologist to determine the severity of her injuries.
Perez learned about the incident from police, and his attorney confirmed to BuzzFeed News that a juvenile charge was referred against the girl. When police called Perez, they claimed his daughter got into a fight and that she "supposedly punched" an officer who was involved, he said.
The viral cellphone video of the incident shows the girl throwing punches in the direction of the other student, with Guetschow inserting himself between them. He falls backward while grabbing the girl and hits his head on a table before holding her down.
"At no point did Jerrel's daughter push or strike at this officer," DeVinney said. The girl was a victim of bullying and was defending herself against another student who was assaulting her, he added.