Surveillance video released Thursday shows Chicago police officers push and drag a 16-year-old student down the stairs at a city high school before punching and tasing the girl.
The video, obtained by BuzzFeed News, appears to contradict the officers’ statements that the student, Dnigma Howard, initiated the violent Jan. 29 encounter at Marshall High School and that her actions caused the three of them to fall down the stairs.
Howard was initially charged with two felony counts of aggravated battery in connection with the incident, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, which first published the video. The charges were dropped shortly thereafter.
“The video evidence completely contradicts the narrative given by the police,” Howard’s attorney Andrew Stroth told BuzzFeed News Thursday. “If she would have been convicted of those charges it would have ruined this young lady’s life but thank god for the video because the video clearly showed what happened.”
In the video, Howard appears to speak to the two officers, Johnnie Pierre and Sherry Tripp. As she begins to walk away, Pierre grabs her and wrestles her down the stairs with Tripp following behind. About 20 seconds later, Pierre is captured dragging Howard by her wrist down the bottom of the stairs with Tripp on top of her.
Pierre and Tripp then proceed to punch and step on her body while she lays on the ground, the video shows.
The girl’s father Laurentio Howard is suing the city, the two officers, and the Chicago Board of Education in federal court, alleging the officers’ use of force violated his daughter’s civil rights.
In an amended complaint filed Thursday, the family’s attorneys argue that the new surveillance footage shows the officers initiated the violent contact with Howard and falsely accused the girl of assaulting them when “she was actually trying to shield herself from the officers’ vicious and unwarranted attack.”
“Once again the city of Chicago is facing a federal civil rights lawsuit based on the unjustified and unconstitutional actions of two officers,” Stroth said by phone. “It’s a clear failure of the leadership of the city of Chicago, the Board of Education, and the Chicago Police Department when you have an unarmed 16-year-old girl without cause or provocation kicked, punched, beaten, thrown down stairs, and then tasered three times by the officers.”
In a statement, the Chicago Police Department said it holds officers “to the highest level of professional standards” and that it would “remain guided by the facts of the investigation.”
“Due to the fact that this incident is currently under the jurisdiction of COPA for the purpose of an independent investigation, we cannot comment on the specifics of the incident or the investigation,” the statement said.
Both officers are no longer working at the school in Chicago’s East Garfield Park neighborhood, according to the Sun-Times. They are currently assigned to the 11th district. One of the officers is currently on “injured in duty” status.
Prior to the altercation, Dnigma Howard had been directed to leave campus because of a student conduct issue, “specifically having her cell phone out in class,” according to the complaint filed in court.
The school contacted Laurentio Howard to pick her up after she completed her finals. A school security officer then began to escort Dnigma out of the school, but she asked to speak to the assistant principal to discuss completing her exams, the complaint said.
But the security officer insisted that she leave, according to the complaint, prompting Pierre and Tripp to approach the girl and ultimately push her toward the staircase.
Earlier footage of the encounter that was captured on a cell phone by a fellow student showed the portion of the incident where Pierre and Tripp used a stun gun on Dnigma.
Her father was present during the officers’ use of force, according to the complaint. He was not allowed to assist or intervene in escorting his daughter from the school.
In a statement provided to BuzzFeed News Thursday, Chicago Public Schools spokesperson Emily Bolton said officials were “deeply disturbed and troubled” by the incident, saying it has “no place in our schools.”
“The CPS Office of the Inspector General is conducting a review of the situation upon the district’s request, and we are fully cooperating in the investigation by the City’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability,” Bolton said.