The mother of a 12-year-old girl who was pressed against a fence and handcuffed during a chaotic scene at Paisley Middle School on Oct. 22 filed a complaint on Wednesday against the school’s resource officer, an employee of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff’s office provides SROs to most of the middle and high schools in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.
Devin Bittle, the mother of a seventh-grader at the school, filed a complaint with the sheriff’s office Professional Standards Division against Deputy R.D. Tomlinson, who is the school resource officer for the combined campuses of Paisley and Lowrance middle schools.
Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough said in a statement that he has viewed the footage from the officer’s body camera and said the deputy acted appropriately.
“There are many versions of a story but only one version of the truth, and I witnessed it via the body-worn camera footage of the incident,” Kimbrough said. “The deputy followed policy and procedure to efficiently and effectively de-escalate the situation.”
Body camera footage is not released to the public in North Carolina unless there is a court order. The sheriff’s office will not petition a judge to release the footage, according to Christina Howell, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.
In videos that circulated on social media, Bittle’s daughter is seen pressed against a fence on a short but steep incline on the Paisley campus. At some point, she, the resource officer and two other men fall to the ground, some landing on her. The resource officer, with a knee now on the girl, handcuffs her while she lies on her stomach.
The girl, still handcuffed, was then taken through the front door of the school, past classmates and parents waiting to pick up their children, humiliating her, her mother said.
Bittle said she wishes the officer and staff members had not resorted to handcuffing her daughter.
“If they had found some sort of communication or used their words with her in the field that day, things wouldn’t have gotten that far,” Bittle said. “They literally treated her like she was a criminal, like she had a weapon, like she had done a serious crime on their premises.”
No charges were filed against the girl.
School Superintendent Tricia McManus said in a statement that she was disturbed by what she saw in a video of the incident and that due to her “strong belief in the power of relationships with students and restorative practices, I would have hoped this situation could have been de-escalated before it reached this point.”
The school district is investigating the incident in tandem with the sheriff’s office, she said.
McManus and other district leaders planned to meet with Bittle on Friday, school spokesman Brent Campbell said.
The sheriff’s office and a witness on the scene offer differing views on what happened shortly after school was dismissed on Oct. 22. Several students congregated and lingered on campus, reportedly to see a fight. Staff members tried to disperse the students with little success. At some point, someone pulled a fire alarm, adding to the chaos.
According to Howell, the resource officer was called to help staff members with a disturbance between female students.
“The students were separated, and one student remained combative, refusing to cooperate with instructions from school staff and the SRO. The SRO detained the student with the least amount of force necessary in order to ensure the student did not harm anyone else or herself. Once restrained, the student became compliant,” Howell said in a statement.
A witness to the scene at Paisley offered a different account in an emotional Facebook Live post, recorded shortly after the incident on Oct. 22.
Melva Sampson, a local pastor and assistant professor of divinity at Wake Forest University, was waiting in the car rider line to pick up her daughter when she saw what she described in her post as a “hysteria. Everything in disarray.”
She said she got out of the car and noticed staff members targeting a girl, Bittle’s daughter. Staff members yelled at her then “slammed” her against the fence, Sampson said. She stayed with the girl as she was handcuffed and escorted to an office and waited until her grandmother came. Someone also threatened to use pepper spray on the girl, Sampson said in her Facebook post.
Sampson criticized the resource officer and staff members for not using other methods to calm a scared girl, such as finding a woman staff member to be with her.
Sampson said she plans to meet with Randy Mann, the principal at Paisley, and McManus. She attended Thursday’s school board to speak against adding more school resource officers in five schools, including Paisley, using the incident she saw on Oct. 22 as an example.
Sampson urged the school board to put resources toward training the staff already in schools.
The school board voted to approve the extra SROs. They will be on campus until the end of the school year.
McManus said the school district remains committed to putting more effort toward building relationships to support students.
Bittle said Mann, who was not on campus during the incident, called her to get her daughter’s side of the story.
School board chairwoman Malishai Woodbury called what happened “concerning.”
“I have spoken to the superintendent about it,” she said. “We are still investigating the issue.”