OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – The Osceola County deputy recorded on video slamming a high school student to the ground following a fight on campus will not face any formal charges, Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell announced Tuesday.
A criminal investigation was opened in January after a video on social media showed Deputy Ethan Fournier, a school resource officer at Liberty High School, throwing a female student to the floor while attempting to arrest her.
Following a Florida Department of Law enforcement investigation, the findings were turned over to Worrell’s office in May to determine if any charges were warranted.
Worrell announced during a news conference on the steps of the Osceola County Courthouse that Fournier acted within the bounds of Florida’s use of force statutes.
“After a thorough review of the evidence, and the applicable law in this matter (the independent review) team has concluded that officer Fournier’s use of force did not violate any laws of the state of Florida,” she said. ”As such, there will be no criminal charges filed in this matter.”
Under Florida’s use of force statute, law enforcement can use force under certain circumstances, including when making an arrest.
“It’s a positive thing for law enforcement and for our community,” Osceola County Sheriff Marcos Lopez said in a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “Especially guys like (Fournier) that every day put their lives on the line to defend us and defend our children.”
However, Worrell said as a parent the widely circulated video was hard to watch for many parents, especially parents of children of color.
“When I watched this video, like many of you, I was angry and concerned for the safety and well-being of my own children and all children,” Worrell said.
The sheriff also addressed the video and the reaction that came following its release.
“It’s unfortunate that the young lady went through this incident,” Lopez said. “It’s also unfortunate that my deputy has suffered a lot of constant bashing and harassment. You know when he just did what he was trained to work and operate.”
Fournier also spoke at the sheriff’s news conference.
“I was the longest-serving SRO in Liberty High School’s history with four consecutive years as SRO. Liberty is filled with great kids and staff. I could have left and went to different schools each year but I chose Liberty, every single year,” Fournier said in a prepared statement. “I’m reminded daily by the calls and texts from the students and players I coach, the parents and staff that I am loved, and I missed on campus.”
He later added that if he gets the opportunity, he would like to go back to serving at Liberty High School.
Following the January incident at the school, an Osceola County school board member organized a School Resource Officer (SRO) Citizens Task Force to make recommendations going forward.
The Osceola County school resource officer did not have a body camera at the time.
“The use of body-worn cameras in this incident could have provided a greater sense of transparency and awareness on how our children are treated in our schools,” Worrell said.
The state attorney said she spoke with the family of the teen and they were unhappy with the decision.
“I took a vow to uphold the law in this circuit. So do I feel like my hands are tied?” Worrell said. “I feel like I made the right legal decision based on the law.”
The attorneys representing the student, including civil rights attorney Ben Crump, issued a statement in response to the decision.
“The facts of this case are laid out for everyone to see in that disturbing video. A Black teenager was violently body-slammed to the ground, knocked unconscious, and handcuffed at her own school by Deputy Fournier. That kind of force is aggressive, unacceptable, and not at all what it looks like to de-escalate a situation between high school girls,” the statement read. “(The teen) is still feeling the repercussions from Fournier’s actions and likely will for the rest of her life. This disgusting incident certainly sends a message to our young people of color - police officers should not be trusted and ‘protect and serve’ is nothing more than a meaningless slogan. While the state attorney has failed to get justice for (her), we won’t stop until we do.”