A white Wisconsin police officer, working as a school security guard while off duty, is facing a lawsuit from the family of a 12-year-old Black girl after he held his knee on her neck for more than 20 seconds while breaking up a fight at school.
The lawsuit accuses the officer, whose actions were caught on tape, of using an illegal chokehold.
Also named in the action against the security guard are the city of Kenosha and the Kenosha unified school district that the girl’s father, Jerrel Perez, hold responsible for the “unreasonable and excessive force” used against his daughter during the incident last year.
The officer, who was working off-duty security at the school, was named as Shawn Guetschow. He has since resigned from the school district, but remains a police officer. His lawyer, Sam Hall, will “vigorously defend” him and the district, according to a statement reported by the Washington Post.
Kenosha was the scene of racial equity protests in August 2020 in the aftermath of the police shooting of a Black motorist, Jacob Blake, and subsequent decision not to charge the officer who shot him seven times in the back and paralyzed him.
The latest incident, involving the school students, which was captured on security camera video, took place in the cafeteria of Lincoln middle school on 4 March last year. Another girl is seen approaching Perez’s daughter, who pushes her off, and a fight ensues.
Guetschow is seen pulling the other girl away, scuffling with the daughter and falling to the ground with her, whereupon he appeared to kneel on her neck for about 20 seconds as he handcuffed her, before pulling her up and walking her out.
In the 14-page lawsuit seeking unspecified damages, which was filed on Monday, Perez alleges his daughter was unable to breathe during the incident, and suffered physical and mental trauma that required treatment for almost a year.
In a statement, Perez’s lawyer, Drew DeVinney, said: “Although she is not healed from her trauma, she is ready to stand up for herself.” He said the girl had relocated with her father to Illinois as a result of the incident.
The filing alleges Guetschow had a reputation for having a short temper during previous employment with another police department, and was improperly trained by Kenosha police and the school district.
His performance with the nearby Lake Geneva police department was graded “unacceptable”, the lawsuit claims, and he was assessed as “emotional, panicked or loses their temper”.
It further states Guetschow did not issue any commands to Perez’s daughter during the restraint, which caused a brain injury, cervical strain and recurrent headaches.
Guetschow, it claims, “acted with malice or in reckless disregard” of the girl’s rights.
The case has drawn parallels with the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds in May 2020.
In a Facebook post following the middle school incident last year, Perez posted side-by-side images of the Minnesota officer Derek Chauvin, who was fired and later convicted of murder, kneeling on Floyd’s neck, and Guetschow doing the same to his daughter, and the caption: “What’s the difference?”
By law, police officers in Wisconsin are prohibited from using chokeholds, defined as “the intentional and prolonged application of force to the throat, windpipe, or carotid arteries that prevents or hinders breathing”, except in life-threatening situations or self-defense.
Hall, in a statement to the Associated Press, said state prosecutors decided not to bring charges against Guetschow, and the US attorney’s office in Milwaukee determined he didn’t commit any civil rights violations.
Kenosha city attorney Matthew Knight declined comment and said the city had not seen the lawsuit yet.