Students, community leaders demand CCSD officer be fired, charged for violent arrest of 14-year-old
Desert Oasis High School student De’Mahj Solomon (right) and Rebecca Haile, a student at Nevada State High School (left) speak at protest Friday night outside the Clark County School District administrative building.
Students and community leaders are calling for the swift termination of a police officer caught on video slamming a Black high school student to the ground and pinning him underneath his knee.
During a protest Friday night outside the Clark County School District administrative building, community leaders made several demands, including swift investigation of the incident, termination of Lieutenant Jason Elfberg, and reform of the CCSD Police Department responsible for policing students.
“We have spoken. This will happen, and we will continue to apply pressure for this officer to go. He cannot be around our children. He assaulted our child, he is a predator,” said Akiko-Ayalla Cooks, the cofounder of 1865 No Racism in Schools. “He’s a terrorist. He terrorized a child.”
The CCSD Police Department has yet to explain why the use of force was necessary or why officers approached the group of students. However, the department said police presence at Durango High School stemmed from an investigation regarding reports of a firearm near a school.
The roughly minute-long video of the encounter shows several district police officers detaining two students as another student records the officers with his cellphone. Elfberg is then seen slamming the student who was recording the incident to the ground, pinning the student face-down in the gutter between a patrol vehicle and the curb.
As the officer kneels on the student’s back, another student can be heard telling the officer, “You can’t have him on the floor like that.”
Throughout the video, officers can be heard repeatedly cursing at the group of Black high school students.
“This week we watched that video and it was horrific,” said Michelle Maese, the president of Local 1107 SEIU Nevada. “I watched a child walk away and videotape the police — which is legal — and watched the police officer go after that child while that child’s back was turned to him.”
Under Nevada law, any person who is not under arrest or in the custody of an officer may record a law enforcement activity and maintain custody and control of that recording, a fact Maese emphasized.
“We must not look away from what’s happening, because it hurts our heart and makes us anxious, because when we wake up everyday, we’ve been Black all our lives. We’ve been anxious all our lives. Our babies are anxious, they can’t even go to school without being attacked,” Maese said.
Outraged parents and students pushed for a stronger response from the district and criticized what they see as a lack of action from elected officials during the protest.
“Black boys are not seen as boys, they are seen as men. They are not men. I saw my little brother in them,” said Rebecca Haile, a senior student at Nevada State High School. “I want that police officer who attacked a 14 year-old fired and charged with assault.”
Earlier Friday, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson released a statement regarding the video, saying he would review the matter to determine whether the officers committed a crime.
“Although a case has not been submitted formally to the District Attorney’s Office, I have seen the same videos the public has seen which have circulated on news outlets and social media,” Wolfson said in the statement. “If the investigating law enforcement agency – – the Clark County School District Police Department – – submits a request for prosecution to my office, I will review the matter to determine if we can prove the elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, as I would any other case.”
Some protestors were not swayed by Wolfson’s response, which he released nearly a week after the video emerged. Quentin Savwoir, president of the Las Vegas Branch of the NAACP, demanded that Wolfson charge Elfberg with or without a request from the CCSD police department.
The move is not without precedent. In the case of the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old Black man who died of a severe spinal cord injury while in custody, six officers were charged by the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office without the recommendation of the Baltimore Police Department.
“Don’t let DA Wolfson off the hook,” Savwoir said. “He just asked for your vote and won. Make him take action.”
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that civil rights were violated, and we still don’t have an explanation. No one can say why. We need a swift investigation,” Savwoir continued.
The Clark County School District Police Department released a statement last week acknowledging they saw the video and have “initiated an investigation and the department will review all aspects of the interaction, including what transpired before, during and after the recording.”
Students who spoke at the protest also expressed skepticism about immediate reform and pushed for more student education on civil rights so students could protect themselves.
“Students do not shed their rights to freedom of speech or the right to express themselves. So why aren’t we told our rights?” said Desert Oasis High School student De’Mahj Solomon, who is a member of the school’s Black Student Union. “The syllabus is a perfect place to include students’ rights so we can be clued in and informed. There are an indecent number of incidents that could have been prevented by us knowing our rights.”
During the protest, students, parents and community leaders called on CCSD to “refund our schools, defund the police.”
“These are our schools, we are paying them. We are paying them to abuse our children. That was a 14 year old boy, a child,” Cooks said. “Let it be understood, these are police. These are not security guards. These are armed police with pepper spray and guns around our children.”
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.