The parent of a middle school student says that an off-duty police officer used excessive force in subduing his child when he appears to have used his knee to keep the girl pinned to the ground after getting into a fight with another student.
Jerrel Perez has sued the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, along with the Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) and Shawn Guetschow over a March 4, 2022 altercation at Lincoln Middle School.
According to the lawsuit, Jane Doe and another student, identified in the pleading as “Student L,” got into a fight in the cafeteria. Guetschow, working as a security officer for the school district, intervened. The officer and the students became entangled at one point, and Guetschow fell.
After that, according to the lawsuit, things got dangerous for Jane Doe.
“After falling, Guetschow immediately gripped Jane Doe around her neck and positioned her on the floor in a prone position,” the lawsuit says. “Guetschow then held Jane Doe’s face down against the cafeteria floor by placing his right hand on the back of Jane Doe’s neck.”
The description drew comparisons to former police officer Derek Chauvin’s May 2020 murder of George Floyd, which sparked racial justice protests nationwide.
While keeping the student pinned to the floor, Guetschow allegedly “pushed his right knee into the back of Jane Doe’s neck while simultaneously pushing her head into the cafeteria floor.”
Perez calls this an “unlawful chokehold” that is prohibited by Kenosha police, except in cases of deadly force and only as a last resort.
“A reasonable officer in Guetschow’s position would not have believed himself to be in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm,” the complaint says.
Perez alleges that Guetschow’s “purpose for using the chokehold was to restrict Jane Doe’s breathing” and that his “intent in using force was to cause pain to Jane Doe based on his misperception that Jane Doe had caused him to fall.”
The lawsuit says that Guetschow fell because he “lost his balance” and “tripped when his left foot became entangled” with the other student’s legs — not because Jane Doe pushed him.
As Guetschow applied the chokehold to the student, according to the complaint, Jane Doe was unable to breathe.
“Guetschow intended to cause physical harm to Jane Doe at all material times,” the complaint says, adding that Guetschow is believed to have asked Kenosha police to file charges against the girl.
As a result of the incident, the girl has allegedly suffered physical injuries, including a “traumatic brain injury, cervical strain, and recurrent headaches” requiring medical treatment. She has also experienced “emotional distress, mental trauma, and anxiety, including severe emotional distress, which has required Jane Doe to undergo mental health treatment and counseling and to change schools.”
The lawsuit alleges one claim of excessive force against Guetschow and two claims of failure to train and supervise against the police department and the school district. Perez and his daughter are seeking an undetermined amount of compensatory and punitive damages.
The girl, who is also a plaintiff in the case, was 12 years old at the time.
Perez says in the lawsuit that his daughter was described as a “respectful student” in her school records and that she was “acting in self-defense and upon provocation of threat of physical harm.”
Guetschow, however, had started to establish a pattern of disturbing behavior by the time he had wrestled Jane Doe to the ground in the cafeteria that day.
“Upon information and belief, Guetschow had a reputation, known to KUSD and the City of Kenosha, for having a short temper,” the lawsuit says, noting the officer’s employment at a different police department in Wisconsin.
“In his final year of employment with the Lake Geneva Police Department, Guetschow’s field performance was marked as ‘unacceptable’ and he was described as ’emotional, panicked or loses their temper,'” the complaint adds. Perez says that the city and the school “insufficiently assessed Guetschow’s field performance with regard to his duties at Lincoln Middle Schools and in his interactions with children.”
The lawsuit alleges that Guetschow had not received any training regarding “security, policing, and/or supervision of children” during his time with both Lake Geneva and Kenosha police departments, and says that KUSD “provided no training” and “does not require any training to employees hired in Guetschow’s position.”
Guetschow resigned from his security role with the school district weeks after the incident in March, ABC News reported.
Attorney Sam Hall, who represents both Guetschow and KUSD, said that the police officer “continues to recover” from injuries he sustained that day.
“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,” the statement says. “Officer Guetschow suffered a concussion, significant swelling and a contusion of the head during this incident.”
The statement adds that Guetschow sought treatment at an emergency room at a local hospital.
Hall also said that the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office has advised that it will not pursue charges against Guetschow, and that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin has determined that Guetschow did not commit any civil rights violations.
A spokesperson for the Kenosha Police Department declined to address specific allegations in the complaint.
“The Kenosha Police Department withholds any statement or comment regarding the lawsuit and finds the appropriate venue for such discussion to be within the courtroom,” the police said in a statement emailed to Law&Crime.
According to the statement, Guetschow was placed on administrative duty as the department conducted three separate investigations into the March 2022 incident.
“Officer Guetschow was not found to have violated anyone’s civil rights, nor was he found to have committed a crime,” the statement says. “Furthermore, an internal investigation found that Officer Guetschow was not in violation of Kenosha Police Department policy or procedure.”
The statement confirmed that Guetschow “was returned to active duty status” on Jan. 31.
Read the lawsuit, below.
Editor’s note: this story has been updated with the statement by Sam Hall, attorney for KUSD and Guetschow.
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