A school resource officer with the Farmington Police Department resigned after using force on an 11-year-old girl at Mesa View Middle School, the department announced Sunday evening.
The incident happened the morning of Aug. 27 when middle school officials asked Officer Zach Christensen to help with a student they said was being “disruptive,” according to the department’s official statement about the incident.
An internal affairs investigation was opened Aug. 28, independent of a complaint filed by the mother of the student the same day, Farmington Police Department Chief Steve Hebbe told The Durango Herald. Officials showed the mother video footage of the incident captured by the officer’s lapel camera, provided her a copy of the video and placed the officer on administrative leave, according to Farmington police officials.
The police department has since release the video to the public.
Hebbe issued a written statement Sunday, saying, “Like many of you, I was shocked and angry when I watched this video. We value our relationship with our community and will continue to work hard to maintain the public’s confidence in our department.”
Christensen said he believed the student had elbowed a school administrator and shoved a principal, according to the release. But when the officer reviewed his own lapel footage of the incident, he “saw he had made some errors in what he believed had happened,” the police chief said.
The video shows the officer attempt to place the student in handcuffs, and when she resisted, the two ended up screaming until the student is ultimately wrestled to the ground despite repeatedly crying “Stop, get off of me” and “Stop touching me.”
School administrators tried to intervene multiple times and one protested the use of force.
The department also referred the case to the New Mexico State Police at the end of August for a criminal investigation, but the State Police did not recommend criminal charges against Christensen, Hebbe said.
Christensen submitted his resignation with the department on Sept. 24, which took effect Oct. 1.
Although the student’s mom initially did not want the incident to go public, the Farmington Police Department decided to release details of the report after involvement of the state police, Hebbe said.
The Farmington Municipal School District issued a statement saying it would not discuss details of the incident, out of “respect for student privacy, and to comply with student privacy laws.”
But the administration’s statement said it was “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 in our care is among our highest priorities.”
While FPD released footage of the incident onto its YouTube channel Sunday evening, the department pulled the clip Monday morning to further redact the audio to remove the student’s personal information, said Nicole Brown, FPD’s spokesperson. A newly redacted video was uploaded Monday afternoon showing an hourlong interaction.
Hebbe said the department is reviewing its policies around use of force. “Is there an age (of child) when we know we’re not going to go hands-on unless there are extreme circumstances?” he said. He said the department will continue to offer trainings and has shown the video to all of its officers to talk about where there were mistakes made.
“When we fall short of our expectations and standards, we hold ourselves accountable,” Hebbe said.