A Santa Ana school police officer’s restraining of a 14-year-old boy has sparked angry reactions from residents and a use-of-force investigation by the Police Department.
In a two-minute, 15-second cellphone video posted online, the unnamed officer is seen holding the boy in an apparent headlock as the boy calls out for help.
The incident took place Tuesday morning at Adams Park in the Valley Adams neighborhood of southwest Santa Ana.
The video, recorded by Santa Ana resident Elvia Fernandez, starts with the officer positioned on top of the boy, who screams “Help me!”
(Click here to see the video.)
The officer orders Fernandez and another observer to “stay back.”
“He’s a little kid,” Fernandez says. “He would have just gotten a ticket.”
“You’re choking a little kid,” says the other observer, identified by the OC Weekly as Alex Sanchez.
“Stop fighting me!” the officer tells the boy.
The boy screams back: “I’m not fighting you!”
Sanchez then tells the officer "he’s not fighting you...Are you crazy? Cause you're choking him man!”
After capturing video of the officer’s license plate, Fernandez gives instructions to the boy in Spanish.
“¡No te muevas! (Don't move!)” she shouts.
“¡Relájate!” she later says, telling the boy to relax.
At one point the officer tells the bystanders to “stop speaking Spanish!”
Fernandex replies: “Well, okay then. 'Relax,' that’s what I’m telling him. I’m telling him to relax."
Soon after that exchange, a female officer arrives and then the video ends.
The footage has drawn intense interest on Facebook, where it was shared more than 14,000 times as of Thursday afternoon.
Most of those commenting on the video expressed their dismay at the officer’s handling of the situation.
“There was no need to put [their] hands on him thats a simple ticket violation for a minor,” Santa Ana resident Maria Rojas wrote.
“When u find his parents make sure they sue! Stupid cops,” wrote another resident, Jeanette Arzate.
Hector Rodriguez, who is police chief of the Santa Ana Unified School District, cautioned that the video is only a partial record of what took place and said the boy appeared to be vandalizing a bench when the officer approached him, Rodriguez said.
"He attempted to flee, he resisted arrest and at some point he struggled with the officer," Rodriguez said, citing a preliminary investigation.
At some point in the struggle, the boy bit the officer, which resulted in the officer needing medical treatment, Rodriguez said.
“Obviously it’s unfortunate that out job requires that we detain some folks at times for these type of acts," Rodriguez said. "And it really is unfortunate that a young man would put himself in a position where we would have to take this type of action.”
The boy, whose name is unknown, was arrested on suspicion of vandalism, resisting arrest and assaulting the officer. Rodriguez also declined to identify the officer, citing an administrative investigation.
Some of the 26 police officers employed by the school district, which has a student body that is 93 percent Latino, do not speak Spanish, Rodriguez confirmed.
"It’s a quality we look into. Obviously we want to have more Spanish-speaking officers," he said.
The incident comes as Santa Ana Unified officials try to undergo a major shift in discipline away from punishment-focused responses and toward providing positive support for students with behavioral issues.
School board member John Palacio also appealed for residents to reserve judgment until the department's internal investigation is completed.
A community forum between school officials and local residents might be appropriate, he added.
“I think we need to look at that as an option,” said Palacio, adding that the issue needs to be dealt with before the next regular school board meeting, which is nearly two weeks away.
Rodriguez welcomed the idea.
“I'm very willing to meet with all the stakeholders, including students. ... I don’t mind having a legitimate, candid discussion about school safety issues," he said.