Dad files federal lawsuit after Wisconsin police officer filmed kneeling on 12-year-old's neck
MILWAUKEE, Wisc. — An Illinois man filed a federal lawsuit alleging that an off-duty Wisconsin police officer improperly restrained his 12-year-old daughter during a fight in a middle school last year by placing his knee on her neck similar to how Derek Chauvin fatally restrained George Floyd.
Jerrel Perez, who lives in Zion, Illinois, but who used to live about 10 miles north in Kenosha, Wisconsin, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin on Monday. He alleges that the officer, Shawn Guetschow, used excessive force and inflicted lasting injuries on his daughter. The filing seeks unspecified damages and attorney fees from Guetschow, the city of Kenosha, and its school district.
In the 14-page complaint, the girl's attorney, Drew DeVinney, said Guetschow used "unreasonable and excessive" force and that he "acted with malice or in reckless disregard" of the girl's rights when he restrained her during a lunch room fight at Lincoln Middle School by placing his knee on her neck for more than 20 seconds.
Guetschow had been working part-time as a school security guard for the school district while also serving as a Kenosha police officer. He resigned from his role with the school district a few days following the incident, but in his resignation letter called out the district for a lack of support.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Kenosha Police Department confirmed that Guetschow is still an active officer with the department. Guetschow was placed on administrative duty pending the outcome of three separate investigations but the department found that he did not violate anyone's civil rights, nor committed a crime, and was returned to active duty last week, the statement reads.
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Lawsuit: Officer's use of force was 'an unlawful chokehold'
The incident took place on March 4, 2022, and was captured on surveillance footage that showed Guetschow rushing over and separating the students.
The video then shows Guetschow in a scuffle with Perez’s daughter. He falls to the floor and takes her down with him. He then gets on top of her and appears to press his knee into the back of her neck for about 25 seconds while he handcuffs her. He then hauls her to her feet and leads her off-camera.
Perez’s daughter is Black. Guetschow is white.
"Guetschow did not issue any instructions to Jane Doe," the lawsuit said. "Guetschow's use of force constituted an unlawful chokehold."
The use of a chokehold is prohibited by Kenosha Police Department policy "except where deadly force is allowed and only as a last resort," according to the complaint. Wisconsin passed a law in 2021 prohibiting police from using chokeholds except as a last resort, joining a host of other states that passed similar statutes in the wake of widespread protests over George Floyd’s death in 2020.
The lawsuit further said the purpose of the chokehold was to restrict the girl's breathing and that "a reasonable officer in Guetschow’s position would not have believed himself to be in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm."
According to the complaint, Perez's daughter could not breathe while Guetschow had his knee on her neck. As a result, the girl suffered both mental and physical trauma in addition to her constitutional rights being violated, the complaint adds
Since the incident, the girl has undergone mental health treatment, counseling and moved to a different school, according to the complaint. Perez and his daughter now reside in Illinois.
"(Perez's daughter) has (been) treated for nearly a year for the physical and emotional injuries that she sustained. Although she is not healed from her trauma, she is ready to stand up for herself," DeVinney said in a statement.
DeVinney said his clients are demanding a jury trial in the civil case.
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Both the city and the school district failed to sufficiently assess Guetschow's field performance, the complaint said.
DeVinney said Guetschow was subject to the Kenosha Police Department's off-duty policies while he worked part-time as a security guard for the district.
The city failed to train Guetschow regarding security and supervision of children and students, the complaint adds. According to the complaint, the school district also failed to provide training to Guetschow and do not require any training for employees hired in his position.
Guetschow had a "short temper," a reputation known by the school district and city, the lawsuit said. Prior to working in Kenosha, Guetschow's field performance at another police department was marked as “unacceptable” and he was described as “emotional, panicked or loses their temper.”
Attorney Sam Hall, who is representing the Kenosha Unified School District and Guetschow, said the school district will "vigorously defend itself" and Guetschow.
Hall added that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin reviewed the case and found that Guetschow "committed no civil rights violations."
The Kenosha County District Attorney's Office declined to charge Guetschow, DeVinney said, but originally charged Perez's daughter. DeVinney said there was never a conviction and "that case is closed."
At the time of the incident, Kenosha police requested the FBI look into the matter. A spokesperson with the FBI would not confirm the existence of an investigation, nor comment on the matter Tuesday.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Wisconsin school district sued after officer knelt on 12-year-old