Dnigma Howard’s attorney says two officers tackled, punched and tased the 16-year-old girl. A Chicago police spokesperson declined comment but says they’re investigating.
Newly released surveillance video shows Chicago police officers dragging a high school student down a flight of stairs and kicking and hitting her and using a stun gun.
Dnigma Howard, 16, initially faced felony charges after police said she initiated the January incident at Marshall High School. However, the charges were dropped, and the newly released video contradicts what police reported, Andrew M. Stroth, Dnigma’s attorney, told USA TODAY on Friday.
“You have an unarmed 16-year-old girl that was tackled and thrown down the stairs, punched, kicked then tased by the officers,” Stroth said. “It’s a saving grace for that young lady that the video tape existed.”
Laurentio Howard, Dnigma’s father, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on Thursday against the city of Chicago, its board of education and the two police officers.
In the suit, Howard says his daughter “was, without justification, physically abused and traumatized by two Chicago police officers.”
Chicago police spokesperson Christine Calace declined to comment on the specifics of the case but said the Civilian Office of Police Accountability was pursuing an independent investigation of the incident.
According to the lawsuit, the incident began when Dnigma was told to leave school on January 29 because she had her phone out in class.
She was being escorted by a school security officer when the officers approached her, the lawsuit says. Howard was also present during the incident.
Dnigma was near a staircase with the police officers when she hugged a friend goodbye, the suit says. She then turned and took two steps away from the stairs when police grabbed her and dragged her toward the stairs, according to the court filing.
The officers “within moments escalated the situation,” Stroth said.
The video shows Dnigma taking the steps then an officer grabbing her and pushing her toward the staircase.
Surveillance video from the level below shows one officer pulling what appears to be her leg as the other officer tries to pin her to the ground at the bottom of the stairs. The officers then hit, kicked and used a taser as Dnigma was on the ground, the suit says.
Dnigma was initially charged with two felony counts of aggravated battery, but had the charges dropped a week later “in the interest of justice,” prosecutors said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
The suit also alleges the officers “made deliberately false statements about the incident,” including that the teen swung at them and that she became irate and initiated the physical altercation.
The video refutes any claims that Dnigma initiated the incident, Stroth and the lawsuit say.
“It’s tragic,” Stroth said. “The video speaks for itself.”
Stroth says the girl was physically and emotionally traumatized by the incident and has since switched schools.
Additionally, the lawsuit says the school did not follow an Individual Education Program that Dnigma has established with the school based on an emotional disability.
A spokesperson for Chicago Public Schools, Emily Bolton, said CPS was cooperating fully with the independent review by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
“CPS is committed to creating a safe and supportive learning environment for all students and we are deeply disturbed and troubled by this incident which has no place in our schools,” she said in a statement.
Stroth, a civil rights attorney who has worked on cases of police abuse of power across the country, says the case highlights a larger issue of police oversight in Chicago’s schools.
The lawsuit says the city lacks oversights and standards for officers in schools that leads to students’ civil rights being violated.
“This case can be a catalyst for change within Chicago Public Schools and say ‘We don’t want this for our children.'”
Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller
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