HENDERSONVILLE — A senior sheriff’s deputy said there was no body camera footage of an allegedly violent school encounter between a twice-fired deputy and a fifth-grader, during which the officer pinned the child to the ground with his knee and punched the child.
This is according to an affidavit by Henderson County Sheriff’s Office Captain Jake McMurray, whose affidavit was filed at a hearing in Henderson County Superior Court on Nov. 10.
The hearing came in response to a Citizen Times petition to release all law enforcement recordings of the May 9 incident between the child and Deputy Alan Brackett.
Previous coverage of Alan Brackett, HCSOThe SBI investigates the use of force by the school’s resource officer on a student at Fletcher Elementary School
Officer has previously fired more than once:Fletcher Elementary SRO investigated by SBI
Guidelines established by Henderson County Sheriff Lowell Griffin require deputies to activate cameras in “all enforcement” contacts and “any other contact that becomes controversial after initial contact in a situation that otherwise would not require a recording.”
After the hearing, Sheriff Lowell Griffin’s spokesman, Johnny Duncan, said Brackett was unable to activate the camera.
“The incident with Deputy Brackett was a very dynamic event that escalated quickly and did not give him an opportunity to activate his body worn camera, therefore there is no body worn camera footage,” Duncan said.
Citing the state’s privacy laws, Griffin’s office declined to discuss the details of the incident in which Brackett allegedly pushed the child off a chair, pinned the fifth grader – who said he couldn’t breathe – and slapped the child in the face to an e-mail from the then headmaster to the school authorities. But on November 10, Duncan addressed the issue, pointing to an investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation.
Emails:Fletcher SRO ‘beaten’, fifth grader pinned; DA is now investigating the case
Henderson County District Attorney’s Office:Cops’ violence against fifth graders was ‘not excessive’; no fees
Following that SBI investigation, District Attorney Andrew Murray declined to press charges, saying there were no criminal actions by Brackett. That’s despite a school board member calling the incident “horrifying” after seeing video of it from a school security camera.
In his Nov. 10 statement, Duncan said that along with the criminal investigation, there was an internal review that found “no excessive use of force and no violation of the[Henderson County Sheriff’s Office]use of force.”
Brackett’s public personnel file shows no disciplinary action, although he was transferred to patrol from his position as the school’s resource officer.
Officers are not required by law to wear body cams in North Carolina, although many departments have issued policies making them mandatory. The state passed a law restricting public access to bodycam videos. It states that in order for a member of the public to obtain a copy of such footage, he must convince a Supreme Court judge of some cause, including “an overriding public interest.”
Maria Haberfeld, a policing expert from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said the guidelines should dictate that “any physical interaction, particularly when it comes to interactions with juveniles,” should require activating a bodycam, although sometimes that’s not possible is to.
“Some departments require activation throughout the shift, others only during specific encounters,” says Haberfeld.
Fletcher Elementary School:Deputy in Fletcher Elementary incident no longer SRO for Henderson County Public Schools
Henderson School Board Member:Video of Deputy hitting 5th grader is ‘terrible’
What happened that day at school
According to an email from then-superintendent John Bryant to the school board, the child was in the main office because it was disruptive.
“During this time, the SRO grabbed the student from the back of (her) hoodie” and they were “popped out” off a chair when Brackett pinned the student to the ground “by putting his knee on (her) chest.”
The student “repeatedly asked the SRO” to let go, saying she “can’t breathe,” the statement said. Principal Tammy Deaver “also had to repeatedly ask SRO to let the student go, which resulted in SRO moving the student to another chair.”
“At this point, the student continued to be verbally disruptive and the SRO slapped the student in the face,” Bryant wrote. “Ms. Deaver immediately intervened and removed the student from the altercation.”
“While I will provide more details in a closed session this afternoon, please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions,” Bryant told board members.
Only one board member, Stacey Caskey, has spoken publicly about it. She told Citizen Times it was “visceral” and “terrifying” to watch and she couldn’t understand why Brackett hasn’t been fired yet.
The child’s grandmother, with whom the child lives, could not be reached for comment on November 10.
The grandmother previously told Citizen Times that she was informed that Rutherford County Social Services had to approve the release of the school video – a surprise to her given that the child lives with her and she was the person called after the Fletcher incident Elementary.
Dee Hunt, the director of Rutherford County DSS, told Citizen Times she was “not at liberty” to discuss why the agency didn’t sign off on the Nov. 10 release of the video.
DA Murray confirmed that he watched the school video. When asked if he would consider releasing it or any other part of the SBI report, Murray declined, saying state youth protection laws prohibit it.
“I don’t think I have the authority to release it. It is a juvenile and anything pertaining to a juvenile is protected,” he said.
Such recordings, which are controlled by the school system, have different legal status than bodycam videos held by law enforcement agencies. Educational institutions often argue that they are part of an educational record. Henderson County Public Schools made that claim when Citizen Times filed a public record request for the video in September.
“The video you requested contains student information and images and is confidential under federal law,” Henderson County Public Schools spokeswoman Kimbrell Arrowood said in a Sept. 26 email.
The protection of young people in such cases arises from the US Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Joel Burgess has been a WNC resident for more than 20 years covering politics, government, and other news. He has written award-winning stories on subjects ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Do you have a tip? Contact Burgess at email@example.com, 828-713-1095 or on Twitter @AVLreporter. Please support this kind of journalism by subscribing to Citizen Times.
Ryan Oehrli reports on public safety for Citizen Times. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-232-5907.