Emotions ran high in the Sanctuary of Calvary Baptist Church on Monday afternoon as leaders and activists gathered for a press conference calling on Wichita city officials to hold accountable the officer who violently escalated an incident at a roller rink on New Year’s Eve night.
A bystander who witnessed the altercation created a cell phone video of the incident. It shows an off-duty Wichita police officer, who was working security at the rink, violently punching a 15-year-old boy, slamming him against the wall and then violently throwing him across the room. When the boy stood up, he appeared frightened, and dropped his hands to his sides. The security guard then pulled out a can of pepper spray, took several steps toward the boy, and sprayed him in the face at close range.
The video did not show the start of the altercation, which involved a 15-year-old girl who first got into an argument with staff at Roller City, 3234 S. Meridian, just a few minutes before 7 p.m.
She allegedly was asked to collect her things and leave the rink. She then demanded if they were not allowing her to stay and skate, they refund her admission. That resulted in a female security officer being asked to escort her out, escalating the situation.
The security officer wrestled her to the floor, handcuffed her and was kneeling on her.
The boy, who was attempting to come to her defense, drew the above response from the male security guard.
The male officer has been moved to administrative duty. The female officer remains on the job.
“We are not taking this anymore”
Activist Treva Graham-Smith led the speakers at the conference.
“We are not taking this lying down anymore. It is not working,” she said. “Both of the officers involved escalated a situation out of control. It should go the other way. When teenagers are emotional and confrontive, the adults should behave like adults and get things under control without the use of excessive force.”
Mayor Brandon Whipple, who spoke with Community members at the press conference said he was deeply disturbed at seeing the video.
“The officer in question was bigger, heavier and stronger than the boy,” he said. “What disturbed me the most was that the boy was clearly scared and posed absolutely no threat when he was pepper-sprayed and thrown to the ground.”
Dr. T. LaMont Holder, senior pastor of the Calvary Baptist opened the church for the event. He called for the termination of the officer who repeatedly struck the boy as the only way for the city and the department to send a clear message that the days of shrugging off police violence are over.Correction from previous reported story.
Tracey C. Mason Sr., who runs CHD Boxing Club, said he knows a thing or two about punches and it was clear to him the officer involved intended to land a knock-out blow.
He said if the boy had not been able to avoid the full force of the blow, he could have been seriously hurt.
Mason recalled the fate of 17-year-old Cedric Lofton, who a little over a year ago was taken to the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake Assessment Center where he died after being held down in restraints for more than 40 minutes. He was in the throes of a mental health crisis. The officers involved in his death have not been identified, charged or disciplined in any way.
Charges against the kids
Both of the teenagers were taken to the Juvenile Intake Assessment Center where the mother of the injured boy said she was denied any contact with her son for seven hours while not knowing how seriously he was hurt.
She questioned how it was possible for her son to be charged with battery of a law enforcement officer when the officer in question was not on duty as a police officer. He was booked on suspicion of battery of a law enforcement officer and two counts of obstruction.
The girl faces charges of suspicion of battery of a law enforcement officer and an ordinance violation for aggressive and harassing contact.
“If that officer was an ordinary citizen, he’d be changed with assault on a minor or child abuse,” said Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau who said the offense was even worse because as a police officer, he should be trained in de-escalating disagreements, not making them worse, and should be held to a higher standard.
She called for dropping all charges against the teenagers, pointing out that being labeled as a “bad kid” or a “troublemaker” at their age often leads to further mistreatment down the road.
“I’ve been seeing this since I was six years old,” she said. “We have to have accountability. There have to be rules for police officers too.”
“It could be your kid next”
A.J. Bohannon spoke passionately about being a father and fearing for the safety of your child. “I have a 14-year-old son,” he said. “He even has the same hairstyle. I can’t get over that could be my kid, or your kid. Or your grandkid, your brother, your cousin.”
LaWanda DeShazer, who works as Senior Program Director – Community Impact for the YMCA, said there will be a meeting on Sund., Jan.8, 2 p.m. to allow young people to speak and to talk about the impact of witnessing police violence against their classmates and friends.
“It’s going to be hard for these kids to feel anything but fear when they see a uniform,” she said to murmurs of agreement from the room. “It leaves a mark on their lives. I’ll be getting the word out on social media about where the meeting will be held. But please, if you think you can offer help or you are just willing to hear their stories, do try to come.”
Former city councilwoman LaVonta Williams spoke from the heart.
“It breaks my heart that these parents thought their kids were going to a safe place to have fun with their friends on New Year’s Eve.
“We need to pick up what we need to help these children grow up normal and strong. We need our leaders to do what has to be done to make sure this ends and that no more kids are hurt.”