By Michael Harriot, The Root
A New Mexico school resource officer has resigned after his body camera recorded him slamming a sixth-grade girl to the ground, wrestling her down and threatening her with trumped-up felonies, all because she committed the egregious crimes of disrupting class, taking an extra milk and standing up on a school bus.
Authorities in Farmington, N.M., released bodycam footage of an Aug.27 incident involving officer Zach Christensen and an 11-year-old Mesa View Middle School student, the Farmington Daily Times reports. The episode resulted in public apologies from the school district, the police department and the eventual forced resignation of Christensen from the force.
In the 77-minute video, Christensen and the school principal try to discuss the young girl’s behavior with her but she does not seem to listen. However, she does not appear to be loud or violent at any point. Of course, the obvioussolution to the situation would be for someone to figure out why the child is acting out, and everyone knows the person most equipped to unwrap the motivation behind a student’s emotional outburst is a school psychologist, counselor, parent, teacher police officer.
After a brief discussion, Christensen does what he’s been trained to do—he telephones someone to see if he can arrest her for “disrupting the educational process.” When the person on the other end apparently begins to ask questions about the child’s behavior, the officer details a long list of disturbing behavior that would usually cause a level-headed adult to ask a child “What’s wrong?” The school infractions include:
- Not listening to the teacher.
- Talking in class.
- Standing up on the bus.
- Taking an extra carton of milk during lunch.
Yes, they called the police on an 11-year-old-girl for that.
Christensen repeatedly asks the principal and the police department to let him arrest the girl and charge her with crimes, even scoffing at the suggestion that he check to see if she “has an IEP” (Individualized Education Program).
Throughout the hourlong confrontation, the child issues two unreasonable demands: She begs Sgt. Ju-Jitsu and the principal to allow her to go home and asks them to call her mother. As they wait for the child’s mother, the student picks at a piece of paper taped to the front door of the school and eventually brushes it against the principal, an action Christensen alleged constituted battery and destruction of property.
Christensen finally grabs the child, slams her against the wall, wrestles her to the ground and yanks her arm in an attempt to put her in handcuffs. The girl sobs as begs him to stop. Christensen only relents when the principal calmly tells the officer that ”she is not a threat to your safety or others,” adding: “You are not going to use excessive force to get this done.”
When additional officers arrived on the scene, Christensen told them the girl had committed “battery” on the principal and resisted arrest. He would later repeat the same lie to the student’s mother when she arrived at the school. The parent filed a legal claim against the officer the next day.
“The officer alleged the student assaulted school staff,” Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe said in a video statement. “This proved not to be true.”
After conducting an internal review, the Farmington Police Department placed Christensen on leave, forwarded the video to the district attorney for possible criminal charges and reassigned Christensen’s supervisor. On Oct. 1, Christensen resigned, presumably to pursue a spot on Farmington’s middle school wrestling team.
“Farmington Municipal Schools extends its apologies to the student and family involved in this unfortunate incident,” the district said in an Oct. 20 statement. “FMS administration is reviewing this incident with the intent of putting into place procedures and practices to prevent another instance like this. The safety of all students entrusted to our care is among our highest priorities.”
The 11-year-old girl was diagnosed with scrapes, bruises, and a mild concussion.
The New Mexico State Police and the San Juan District attorney announced they will not file charges against Officer Christensen.
This article originally appeared in The Root.