OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – A criminal investigation has been opened after an Osceola County deputy was caught on video slamming a high school student to the ground.
A video posted on social media shows Deputy Ethan Fournier, a school resource officer at Liberty High School, throwing a female student to the floor while seemingly trying to restrain her.
The video, which has been viewed more than 70,000 times, shows the deputy slamming the student onto the concrete walkway. Moments later, the deputy can be seen placing the student in handcuffs while a second deputy stands over them. As the handcuffs are being placed, the student does not appear to move.
The sheriff’s office said the girl was medically treated at the school and is doing fine. The agency has been in contact with her mother and is choosing not to release her age.
Osceola County Sheriff Marcos Lopez addressed the video in a news conference Wednesday, saying the agency has decided to turn over the investigation as a criminal investigation to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“We will have zero, absolute zero tolerance of use of force by any of our deputies no matter where they are -- in the schools, in the streets,” he said.
Lopez, who was recently elected to the role of sheriff, has been the top law enforcement officer at the agency for only a few weeks. He said he’s decided to turn over the investigation to make sure the case’s outcome is “completely independent” of the sheriff’s office.
“We remove this burden off us and pass it on to a higher authority and ensure that no one can say that we’re looking out for our own,” he said.
Lopez calls it the right step as he emphasized his zero-tolerance policy of police misconduct.
The Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office said a determination in the case will be made after the office receives the findings from the FDLE investigation.
Attorneys Natalie Jackson and Benjamin Crump said they plan to represent the girl who was seen being slammed in the video.
According to the sheriff, Fournier has been with the agency for 10 years and does not have a history of misconduct.
Lopez explained that the deputy was trying to stop a “disruption at a school function,” and that the student was not complying with the deputy’s demands. The female student went after another student and the situation escalated, according to the sheriff’s office.
“We can investigate our own, we have the capabilities. However, certain situations and certain circumstances -- for complete, clear transparency and utmost trust with our citizens, this is the right decision to go,” the sheriff said about choosing to release the investigation to the FDLE.
Lopez said Fournier was hurt during the incident but is now doing OK. He has been put on paid administrative leave pending the investigation with the FDLE and the State Attorney’s Office.
The sheriff also shared strong words saying his agency was not going to tolerate the mistreatment of deputies, adding that “a lot” of death threats have been made toward Fournier.
“He has received them, and I’ll tell you, we have a very good Intel Unit and (if) you’re going to start threatening my sheriff’s (deputies) until we can do a thorough investigation -- we’re going to come after you too,” he said, adding that his zero-tolerance approach also extends to people threatening any of the agency’s employees.
Below is the statement the sheriff’s office released Tuesday evening:
Today the sheriff’s office received information from school officials at Liberty High School about a video posted on social media depicting one of our School Resource Officers in a confrontation with a student. The incident appeared to take place between classes in the hallway. In the video, it shows the deputy taking the student to the ground and placing handcuffs on her.
Our office is in the initial stages of our investigation. We are collecting video, witness statements, and relevant information related to the incident.
We know that the School Resource Officer was in the process of trying to stop the student from fighting another student in the hallway when the deputy took her into custody. Once we receive more information related to the incident, we will provide an updated press release.