WATCH: 14-Year-Old Syracuse Student Sues Police Over Injuries During Arrest at School

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Two attorneys who already have an excessive force lawsuit against a Syracuse police officer filed a second suit today, alleging that Officer Vallon Smith violated the constitutional rights of a 14-year-old during an arrest at school last February.

The federal lawsuit names the city of Syracuse, the police department, Chief Frank Fowler and Smith. It alleges Jabari Boykins, then a freshman at Nottingham High School, was denied his Fourth Amendment constitutional right when he was arrested Feb. 9, 2017.

Attorneys Jesse Ryder and Charles Bonner, who is from San Francisco, announced the lawsuit on the steps of City Hall among several dozen protesters calling for the officer to be fired and for an end to excessive force by Syracuse police.

The rally was organized by the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, whose members helped Boykins’ mother, Liza Acquah, file a records request to obtain a copy of surveillance video that depicts the arrest and also raises questions about Smith’s version of events.

“What do we want?” Black Lives Matter member Herve Comeau shouted.

Protesters gathered at the steps of Syracuse city hall on Tuesday to call for justice for Jabari Boykins, a 14-year-old who sustained a broken arm and busted lip during an arrest in February 2017 that has prompted a federal lawsuit and a review by the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office.
“Justice!” attendees responded.

Boykins’ left arm was broken during the arrest and he suffered a split lip, his mother said. He was charged with resisting arrest and criminal trespass.

The city’s Citizen Review Board, which reviews complaints against police, found that Smith used excessive force and that his police report had contradictions. It also took the unusual step of referring the case to District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, who is reviewing whether to charge Smith.

The police department and Smith are already facing a lawsuit from the same attorneys for a July 2016 arrest of Maurice Crawley, video of which has been viewed more than 136,000 times on YouTube.

Crawley was present at the rally and could be seen loudly joining the protesters. Boykins was not present.

His mother, Acquah, said she wants Smith fired and charged criminally.

The office of Mayor Ben Walsh, in a statement released shortly after the rally, said the mayor had “reviewed the incident with Chief Fowler” and is having conversations about school resource officers like Smith with the chief and schools Superintendent Jaime Alicea.

The mayor’s office declined to comment further.

Police spokesman Sgt. Richard Helterline also declined to say whether Smith has been removed from the school or placed on leave.

The lawsuit seeks $12 million in damages.

The suit alleges Chief Fowler was negligent in preventing officers from violating constitutional rights and that the city has a “custom, policy and pattern and practice” of failing to adequately train, supervise and hire its officers.

Bonner said his firm decided not to sue the school district, saying school officials had every reasonable expectation that Smith would handle the incident without violating the student’s rights.

The attorneys said they learned of the teen’s arrest from a story last week.

City’s police watchdog panel alleged that officer Vallon Smith used excessive force and asked DA to review for criminal charges.

On the morning of Feb. 9, 2017, Boykins, who is diagnosed with autism and bipolar disorder, refused to go to class and was suspended, according to Acquah and the police reports.

He left the building to take a city bus home, but he missed it, and he returned to the building.

Officer Smith wrote in his report that he was speaking to the parents of another student when he was notified via radio that Boykins had re-entered the building.

He saw Boykins and Vice Principal Kenneth Baxter arguing in the main hallway, and Boykins was cursing at the vice principal, Smith wrote. Smith asked Baxter if he wanted the teen arrested for trespassing, and Baxter said “yes,” according to the report.

Herve Comeau, a member of the local Black Lives Matter chapter, speaks to protesters on Tuesday.
The lawsuit is based on what happened next.

Boykins’ hands appear to be in his pockets when Smith shoved Boykins against the wall, according to the video.

There is no mention of the shove in Smith’s report.

Then, Smith wrote, Boykins pulled his right hand from his jacket and made a fist. Smith said he grabbed Boykins’ left arm, and Boykins spun around “in an aggressive manner as if he wanted to punch me.”

Boykins’ spin toward the officer is apparent on the video. The teen’s mother said the officer had his hand on the back of Boykins’ head, though it’s not clear from the video.

Shortly after, Smith and Boykins tussle, and Smith appears to have his hands on the teen’s neck as the teen tries to gain footing on the slippery hallway floor. As the pair push against each other, Smith appears to strike at Boykins’ head at least once.

There is no mention in Smith’s report that he punched at the student.

“I … pushed Boykins against the main office wall. Boykins yelled to me, ‘I’m going to spit on you,’ ” Smith wrote. “I then tried to tackle Boykins to the ground by grabbing him around his waist area.

Shortly afterward, another officer, Sheldon Lloyd, appears on screen, and the video shows Boykins being raised in the air and slammed onto the ground, which is when the boy’s mother said his left elbow was fractured.

Boykins was then led to the officers’ office in handcuffs before being taken home.


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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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