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Nearly a year after an off-duty cop was captured on video kneeling on the neck of a 12-year-old girl at a Wisconsin middle school, her family filed a lawsuit alleging the officer violated her constitutional rights.
The federal civil rights lawsuit was filed against officer Shawn Guetschow, the city of Kenosha and the Kenosha Unified School District Monday in U.S. District Court Eastern District of Wisconsin.
The suit was filed by the father of the victim, Jerrel Perez, and the student, identified only as Jane Doe because she is a minor.
In the March 4, 2022, incident at Lincoln Middle School, Guetschow, a Kenosha police officer who also worked as a security guard at the school, had broken up a fight between Jane Doe and another girl in her sixth grade class in the cafeteria, the lawsuit said.
According to school surveillance footage of the incident, Guetschow fell on the ground with Jane Doe after separating the girls. He then pushed her head onto the floor of the cafeteria and put his knee on her neck for about half a minute before handcuffing her.
The lawsuit alleged Guetschow used excessive force in arresting Doe, alleged the city of Kenosha and the Kenosha Unified School District did not provide him with any training regarding the security guard job, and thus failed to prevent the incident.
NBC News reached out to the city of Kenosha for comment.
Attorney Sam Hall, who is representing the Kenosha Unified School District and Officer Shawn Guetschow said in a statement that the district will “vigorously defend” itself and Guetschow in the civil litigation.
Hall said that the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office notified the Kenosha County District Attorney last week that it will not pursue any charges against Guetschow.
Meanwhile, the Kenosha Police Department said Guetschow was “not found to have violated anyone’s civil rights.”
The suit said that Jane Doe, who had moved to Kenosha in 2021 with her father and siblings, was “acting in self-defense” and “upon provocation of threat of physical harm,” in getting into the fight with her peer.
At the time of the fight, Guetschow and a school counselor were supervising the students, the suit said. The counselor advised him that she believed that Jane Doe and her peer were about to fight and both watched as the student approached Doe.
By the time they reached the girls, the other student was hitting Doe, according to the lawsuit.
In the scuffle, Guetschow fell and Doe fell with him. After the fall, he gripped Doe by her neck and put her on the ground in a prone position, the suit said.
He “pushed his right knee into the back of Jane Doe’s neck while simultaneously pushing her head into the cafeteria floor,” and did not issue any instructions to her, it said. It’s not clear if the two had any communication as the video footage released by the district had no audio and both Geutschow and the student were wearing face masks.
The suit said that Guetschow’s use of force constituted an unlawful chokehold.
The use of a chokehold is prohibited by the Kenosha Police Department’s policy, except where deadly force is allowed — and only as a last resort.
The suit said a responsible officer in Guetschow’s position “would not have believed that the use of a chokehold was reasonable and necessary.”
Jane Doe, according to the filing, did not resist, was unable to breathe in the chokehold, and told Guetschow she couldn’t breathe.
Still, he kept the pressure on her neck.
Guetschow later told a Kenosha police officer that same day he thought one of the girls had punched him, the suit said.
“Guetschow’s use of the chokehold against Jane Doe was motivated by malice and anger at his belief that he was punched.” the suit said.
Doe suffered physical injuries including a traumatic brain injury, cervical strain, and recurrent headaches, as well as emotional distress, mental trauma and anxiety, the filing said. She has had to seek counseling and change schools as a result of the incident.
Officer had a ‘short temper’, was offered no trainings for the job
Guetschow had a reputation “for having a short temper,” the lawsuit said.
Before his employment with the city of Kenosha and KUSD, he was employed by the Lake Geneva Police Department. In his final year of employment there, his field performance was marked as “unacceptable,” and he was described as “emotional, panicked, or loses their temper,” the suit said. NBC News has reached out to Lake Geneva police to confirm this account.
The lawsuit said the city of Kenosha and KUSD insufficiently assessed his field performance with regard to his duties at Lincoln Middle School.
Guetschow had resigned from his role with the school district the same month of the kneeling incident.
Guetschow was placed on administrative leave by Kenosha police pending several investigations and returned to active duty status on Jan. 31, 2023, the department said.
The lawsuit said that the incident occurred because of the Kenosha Police Department’s “failure to adequately supervise, discipline, and/or train its employees with regard to secondary employment as school security officers.”
Further, the city of Kenosha was allegedly “aware” of Guetschow’s “short temper at the time of his hiring,” but he was still permitted to become a school security officer, the lawsuit said.
The suit said that the incident violated Jane Doe’s constitutional rights and was “a foreseeable and likely consequence of hiring Guetschow and in failing to train” him in “interacting with children in a school setting.”
The lawsuit also said that KUSD did not provide any training to off-duty police officers it employed and did not require off-duty officers to receive any training, and in failing to adequately train and supervise such officers, the district was “deliberately indifferent” to the rights of Jane Doe.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages in an amount to be determined at trial.
Hall, Guetschow’s attorney, said his client continues to recover from injuries sustained in the altercation.
“As Officer Guetschow was attempting to break up the fight, he was pushed to the ground, his head violently striking a table as he fell to the floor. Officer Guetschow suffered a concussion, significant swelling and a contusion of the head during this incident. Despite his injuries, and through the use of a trained law enforcement technique, he was ultimately able to gain control over the student and escorted the student to school administrators and on-duty law enforcement officers,” Hall said.
The surveillance video footage doesn’t show the moment he strikes his head on the table as several students stand up and block the camera’s view, but he is seen falling toward the table.
“These officers are in Kenosha Unified schools because it is the District’s highest priority to provide a safe and secure learning environment for its students and staff. We will vigorously defend KUSD and Officer Guetschow in this action,” the statement continued.
The Kenosha Police Department said in a statement Tuesday that it “withholds any statement or comment regarding the lawsuit and finds the appropriate venue for such discussion to be within the courtroom.”
The department said Guetschow was placed on administrative leave following the March 4 incident pending the outcome of three separate investigations. Ultimately, he “was not found to have violated anyone’s civil rights, nor was he found to have committed a crime.”
“Furthermore, an internal investigation found that Officer Guetschow was not in violation of Kenosha Police Department policy or procedure,” police said.