FT. PIERCE, Fla. - A 13-year-old student got involved in a fight with a school staff member in St. Lucie County and it was all caught on camera.
Tamekia O’Neal admits her son Damonta is no angel. In fact, he has been in trouble at school before. But after watching the surveillance video, she said it’s the school worker who should be punished and not her son. She contacted the Contact 5 Investigators.
O’Neal said she didn’t realize how bad the fight was in the Ft. Pierce classroom until she watched the surveillance video that was taken inside the classroom.
“I was angry, I was upset, I was on the phone, I was calling everybody,” she said.
The video is grainy, but it shows her then 13-year-old son Damonta in the white shorts trying to leave the classroom at Delaware Avenue School. What happened next got him expelled and led to juvenile charges for battery and resisting police.
“From seeing the video, it seemed like my son was battered,” said O’Neal.
School officials said there was an altercation that was taking place in the hallway and Damonta tried to get out the classroom door. That’s when the staff member confronted the student.
“Why was my son picked as the one to be slammed, and you can see it in the video,” said O’Neal. “He just slams him to the ground.”
O’Neal said she can see the staff member throwing her son against a wall of computers and eventually onto the ground. About thirty seconds later, school resource officers rushed in, handcuffed the teen and arrested him.
“I see a teacher battering a student which is absolutely wrong,” she said.
But it wasn’t a teacher. The man involved was actually a Behavior Technician, hired to keep kids at the alternative school in line.
Assistant Superintendent Bill Tomlinson couldn’t talk specifics about what happened because it involves a police case and a student. He admits the behavior technician used force, but said it was reasonable force. Tomlinson said the technician did exactly what he was trained to do.
“It is the last resort anytime that you have to use reasonable force, but in this situation it was necessary in order to maintain an orderly environment in the school,” said Tomlinson.
He said there’s proof in the video. If you rewind the surveillance video to before the altercation took place, you’ll see Damonta trying to get out of the classroom door another time, about forty seconds before.
Tomlinson said the technician confronted him and gave the student a verbal warning first to stay in the classroom and away from the altercation.
“Prior to blocking comes with verbal instruction, ‘you need to go back to your seat you need to adhere to the rules and regulations of the classroom and of the school’,” Tomlinson said.
In a statement to police, the technician claimed the student made verbal threats and went on to write “Damonta then attempted to walk out again.. so I grabbed him by his arm and attempted again to escort him back towards the computers and then he started showing aggression and that’s when I wrestled him to the floor…”
Tamekia O’Neal said it looks like a lot more than just “escorting” to her.
“There could've been a different way he could've handled that situation,” she said.
Tomlinson disagreed. “We have the whole picture, we have to look at maintaining that safe and orderly environment,” he explained.
Damonta was expelled a short time later.
It’s now up to a judge in St. Lucie County to determine whether the teenager should be convicted of juvenile charges.
“I had to let other people see the video to say, maybe I'm looking at it from a mom's point and I'm seeing something that's different,” said O’Neal.
The student will be in court in September. NewsChannel 5 will let you know what happens.
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