ROBERT E. LEE HIGH SCHOOL SAFETY OFFICER TO BE FIRED FOR TAUNTING, USING “UNNECESSARY” FORCE ON STUDENT
Jacksonville, FL March 14 2019– A School Safety Officer at Robert E. Lee High School has been suspended without pay, pending termination.
The Duval County School Board approved that action for Officer Joseph Richardson last week, but new investigative documents obtained by WOKV detail the conduct that led to that conclusion. The Duval County Public School District investigation sustained four complaints against him, including that he used unnecessary force and profanity in an interaction with a student.
WOKV first reported in October about a viral video that appeared to show an altercation between a school officer and student, including that officer holding the student on or near the neck against a wall, and then throwing her to the ground. The officer was placed on administrative duty pending the investigation.
The DCPS investigation found that the exchange started over allowing a student access to the school through a gate. The student involved arrived late to school and was trying to find her gym class. She told investigators that Richardson pointed her to the cafeteria, at which point she left the gate to go to the cafeteria, but her class wasn’t there. She says she tried to get back in through the gate, but Richardson told her he could not open it to let her back in. The school’s principal later told investigators that the intent of the gate restriction is to ensure late-arriving students are accounted for, although he believes it would have been appropriate to let this student back in, because Richardson had just let her out.
The student told investigators that she turned to go to the main office, but Richardson yelled something at her that led her to turn back. Interviews with witnesses show conflicting information about the specific conduct that then took place, but the investigator reviewed the cell phone and school security videos, and found that Richardson not only engaged in a verbal argument with the student, but was “taunting” her by “dancing” at the gate. The student says, during that time, she and Richardson were yelling profanities at each other, and Richardson confirmed that, according to the investigation.
“Officer Richardson admitted that he engaged in a profanity laced argument with the student and that he used extremely derogatory terms when referring to the student and her mother,” according to the investigative report.
The student then allegedly tried to hit Richardson through the gate. The report says Richardson says the student brushed him across the nose, but the investigation could not corroborate that. He then exited the gate and continued to argue with her, according to the report. The investigator says the student tried to get past Richardson, but he continued to taunt her while blocking the entrance. After another attempt by the student to get past him, Richardson shoved her to the wall and held her there with his hand around her neck, according to the investigator’s review of the video.
The report says the video shows Richardson with the student up against the wall, elevated a couple of feet but supported by her leg on a ledge, in what the student describes as him choking her. In the report, Richardson admits to holding the student by the neck, but says he did not apply pressure. The investigator says it appeared on video that the student was kicking Richardson while in that position, while he had his hand on the side of her neck. The student says Richardson then pushed her to the ground, and the investigator says the video shows him grabbing her leg near the ankle and forcing her to the ground.
“If Officer Richardson had not taunted the student and allowed her to continue walking away, he would not have had a lawful reason to approach the student in his law enforcement capacity,” the investigative report says.
Because of his alleged taunting, the investigator found Richardson’s resulting actions to be at fault.
“It is the conclusion of the investigation that Officer Richardson did not have lawful justification to physically restrain the student, and when he physically placed the student up against the wall and used his hand to hold her around her neck, his actions were excessive and unnecessary. Furthermore, Officer Richardson’s actions when he ‘let’ the student to the ground were also unnecessary and excessive,” the report says.
The investigation further faults him for acting in a way that could damage the reputation of the Duval County School Police Department and School District, because officers are trained to not get “emotionally hijacked” and to always act with the assumption that what they do will be recorded by cell phone video and posted on social media.
WOKV has additionally learned this is not Richardson’s first disciplinary write-up. He received a three-day suspension in October 2015, in reference to a September incident of failing to take appropriate action relating to the mishandling of evidence, according to the District.