CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) — A lawsuit says two white school officials in southeast Missouri slammed a black teenager to the ground three times, injuring her neck and back and requiring hospital treatment.
Judge Craig Brewer granted a change of venue Wednesday in the lawsuit against the Cape Girardeau School District after attorneys for Ta’Brea Harris and her mother, Terri Harris, argued that a fair local trial was impossible since many potential jurors are graduates of the district.
The new venue hasn’t been determined, but the teen’s attorneys have asked for the case to be heard in Mississippi County or St. Louis County. The venue change request also raised the issue of the lack of diversity in the judicial district that includes Cape Girardeau. About nine in 10 residents of that area are white.
Details of the case were first reported Thursday by the Southeast Missourian.
The lawsuit alleges that after Ta’Brea Harris was involved in a verbal argument with another student while waiting for a school bus on Dec. 11, 2014, then-assistant Cape Girardeau Central High School principal Chris Kase grabbed her and slammed her to the ground. She was 14 at the time.
Athletic director Lance Tollison later approached the teen from behind and slammed her to the ground, grabbed her when she tried to get away and slammed her down again, the lawsuit says.
Kase is now the principal at the high school, and Tollison remains as athletic director. Neither has a listed phone number. A district spokeswoman referred calls to district attorney Rebecca Cary, who declined comment Thursday.
Attorneys Daniel Statler and Matthew O’Brien, who are representing the teen and her mother, also declined to comment on the lawsuit, which was originally filed in November.
The suit says Ta’Brea Harris was treated at a hospital and incurred medical expenses due to her injuries, and continues to suffer from stress and anxiety. It seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
The incident was captured on surveillance video, which the judge has temporarily sealed. No hearing has been scheduled over access to the video.
The Associated Press has requested the video through an open records filing.
Students in communities outside of Missouri have alleged they were physically assaulted by authority figures at school in recent months.
In October, cellphone video showed a school resource officer in Columbia, South Carolina, flipping a teenage girl out of her desk and tossing the student across the classroom floor. Another student recorded the high school incident. The officer was fired, and the U.S. Department of Justice has launched a civil rights investigation.
Last month, two Baltimore school police officers were charged with assault against a 10th-grader. One of the officers is accused of slapping and kicking the student while the other stood by. That incident also was videotaped on another student’s cellphone.
A high school teacher in Beaumont, Texas, was fired earlier this month and arrested on misdemeanor assault charges after cellphone video surfaced showing a woman sweeping papers from the top of a student’s desk, slapping him five times and scolding him for being a disruption.
In the Missouri case, Cape Girardeau police Sgt. Adam Glueck said the teen and her mother filed a police report on the day of the incident. A school resource officer investigated and sent the case to the Cape Girardeau County prosecutor for review, but no charges were filed, according to online court records.
The county prosecutor did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment.
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