Winston-Salem, NC – Following mass outrage, the Winston-Salem Police Department has released bodycam footage that captured an altercation between a defiant middle school student and a school resource officer (video below).
The incident occurred on Oct. 5, as Winston-Salem Police Officer Tyler McCormick, the school resource officer at Hanes Magnet School, was investigating a disorderly conduct report, WXII reported.
School personnel told Officer McCormick that 14-year-old Rockell Baldwin had skipped class, then waited outside another classroom to attack a fellow student, the officer’s attorney, Chris Beechler, told the Winston-Salem Journal.
According to Beechler, Baldwin has bullied students at various schools in the past.
Bodycam footage showed Officer McCormick attempting to speak with the teenage girl as she walked away from him and left the school building.
“Come here,” he said as he followed Baldwin into the parking lot.
“I’m gone,” she retorted, marching steadily ahead.
The officer explained that he just wanted to speak with her about what had occurred between her and the other student, but she refused to cooperate, the video showed.
Officer McCormick then reached out and stopped Baldwin from leaving the area.
“Let go of me! I’m gone. I’m leaving school,” she declared, before she began wailing and crying.
The officer repeatedly told her to stop, but Baldwin spun around and continued to resist him.
Officer McCormick then took her to the ground, and placed the screaming girl into handcuffs.
“You don’t gotta snatch on her like that,” a bystander yelled at the officer, as he recorded a video of the scene that later went viral.
“That’s fine. I’m videoing, too,” Officer McCormick told him.
The officer assisted the wailing girl to her feet, and led her back into the school.
He told Baldwin to sit down inside an office, at which point the teen began to slip her cuffed hands to the front of her body.
“Don’t do that,” Officer McCormick warned her.
“It’s uncomfortable!” the girl said through tears.
“It’s supposed to be uncomfortable,” he responded. “You want to act like a grownup, we’re going to treat you like a grownup, ok?”
“Where is my mama?” Baldwin wailed.
The bystander who recorded the teen’s arrest posted the footage online, and the video quickly went viral, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.
Baldwin told two news outlets that Officer McCormick slammed her to the ground in the parking lot after he saw her walking in the school hallway with a hall pass.
The Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity and the Winston-Salem Urban League alleged that Officer McCormick assaulted the girl during her arrest, and claimed he kneeled on her back using his full weight.
The police department denied allegations that Officer McCormick used excessive force during the encounter, and said he was cleared of any wrongdoing following an internal investigation.
According to Winston-Salem Assistant Police Chief Natoshia Miles, Officer McCormick told Baldwin to stop at least 17 times throughout the encounter.
“In response to the initial community concerns regarding Officer McCormick’s actions and as observed in the video, Officer McCormick never placed his knee in Ms. Baldwin’s back, nor did he place his hands against her face and push her face into the asphalt,” Chief Miles said, according to the Triad City Beat.
Elizabeth City Police Department Sergeant Paul Perry, a use-of-force instructor for the North Carolina Justice Academy who conducted an independent assessment of the altercation, said that Officer McCormick utilized de-escalation techniques and minimal force when Baldwin resisted arrest, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.
“As you see in the video, Officer McCormick used very light force exertion to bring Ms. Baldwin to the ground,” Sgt. Perry explained, according to the Triad City Beat.
“His actions were extremely deliberate and not dynamic in nature. Officer McCormick was in control of his body as well as Ms. Baldwin’s body throughout the taking her to the ground," the sergeant added.
The only reason the teen was taken to the ground was due to her own actions, Chief Miles said.
“If Ms. Baldwin would have changed her behavior and her resistance, she would not have been placed on the ground and placed in handcuffs,” the chief explained, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
But Ministers’ Conference member Reverend Charlton Eversley continued to denounce the way Officer McCormick handled the unruly teen, and demanded that the police department change its policies.
“Our position is if the way the arrest was handled is considered proper, then the procedure needs to be changed,” Eversley said. “Our position is that this was the abuse of a child.”
Emmanuel Baptist Church Reverend John Mendez went so far as to allege that the bodycam video released by police was not from the same incident that was recorded by the bystander.
“It’s not the same video,” Mendez said. “In our opinion, her humanity was violated. She didn’t deserve that.”
Meanwhile, Pastor Todd Fulton said that having the opportunity to view the bodycam footage had altered his opinion regarding what actually occurred, WFMY reported.
"I think it was a premature call – to call for Officer McCormick's job – without first seeing the facts,” Fulton said. “So, I am grateful for the transparency of the police chief, our city officials, our district attorney, and everyone who has pushed for the facts to be shown.”
Just last month, Fulton had criticized Officer McCormick for harassing the teen.
“She was having female problems, cramps, and she needed to call her mother for some personal female items, and she was on her way down the hall when the resource officer stopped her,” Fulton said at the time, according to the Triad City Beat.
The teen’s mother, Tamkea McLean, released a statement through her attorney, Irena Como, on Friday, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.
“Instead of de-escalating the situation, he put his hands on a 14-year-old child, forced her to the ground, and handcuffed her,” Como said.
“The video released today does not show a police officer using the appropriate level of force in a situation involving a middle-school student,” the statement continued. “Instead, it shows a child who is scared and upset and emerges from the encounter physically injured and traumatized.”
According to Como, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is looking into the incident in order to apprise Baldwin’s family of their options.
Although Officer McCormick has been cleared of wrongdoing, he is no longer assigned as a school resource officer, the Triad City Beat reported.
“I’d like everybody to know that this has changed his career path,” Beechler said. “He is a wonderful officer, has been for seven years.”
“He loved being [a school resource officer]. He cannot be there any more right now, although he would go back in a minute,” he added. “To take a hit like this and be alleged to have done something wrong and have your job called for without any of the facts is just irresponsible.”
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You can watch both recordings of the incident in the videos below: