Police on Friday released more than an hour of body-camera footage from the arrest of a 14-year-old at Hanes Magnet Middle School on Oct. 5. The first 30 seconds of the video has no audio.
Police body-camera footage released Friday gave a more complete picture of what led to a 14-year-old middle-school student’s controversial arrest on Oct. 5 at Hanes Magnet School and its immediate aftermath.
The Winston-Salem Police Department released 65 minutes of the body-camera footage after Judge Anderson Cromer of Forsyth Superior Court signed a court order for its release. The Winston-Salem Journal and three TV stations — WXII, WGHP and WFMY — filed a petition to have the video released. Under North Carolina law, video recorded by a law-enforcement officer’s body-worn camera can only be released by court order.
The incident involving the female student and the Winston-Salem Police Department school resource officer assigned to Hanes drew attention after an 80-second video of the girl’s arrest was posted on Facebook and became viral.
The Winston-Salem Urban League and the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity condemned the arrest and called for the officer to be fired. The Ministers’ Conference said the incident involved race. The girl, Rockell Baldwin, is black, and the officer, Tyler McCormick, is white.
Baldwin told two news organizations that she had a hall pass and that McCormick approached her in the hallway to ask her where she was going. She said she pulled away from him and went to the parking lot, where things escalated and where she claims McCormick slammed her to the ground. Both the Ministers’ Conference and the Winston-Salem Urban League said in statements that McCormick put a knee on Baldwin’s back and put his full weight on her during the arrest.
Police officials and attorneys for the officer contradicted that version at a news conference Friday, saying that McCormick neither slammed Baldwin to the ground nor put a knee to her back. McCormick’s attorneys also said Baldwin had skipped her last class and was trying to fight another girl at the school before the incident.
The Ministers’ Conference compared the Hanes’ incident to one in South Carolina where a white school resource officer, or SRO, was recorded flipping a high school student to the floor and dragging her across a classroom after she declined to give up her cellphone.
During the news conference Friday at the Winston-Salem Police Department, a four-minute clip of the 65-minute body-camera footage was shown. In the video, McCormick is in the guidance counselor’s office and Baldwin is seated. The first 30 seconds of the video is without sound, which is standard when body cameras first start recording. Baldwin leaves and McCormick follows her. The next time Baldwin is seen, she is heading into a stairwell, going up the steps and opening a door to go outside.
McCormick tells Baldwin several times to come back so they can talk about the alleged report of disorderly conduct that he was called to investigate. She continues to walk. At some point, McCormick comes close to Baldwin, and Baldwin tries to pull away. It appears McCormick then puts her arms behind her back as she screams and then McCormick takes her to the ground, where he handcuffs her.
It doesn’t appear from the body-camera footage that McCormick slammed her to the ground or put his knee on her back. The arrest happens within the first two minutes of the video. The rest is the aftermath in which Baldwin is taken to McCormick’s office, where she waits for her aunt to pick her up. During that time, she cries but eventually calms down. She complains about the handcuffs and eventually talks to McCormick about a number of things, including her brother, fights she has been involved in and gangs. McCormick takes the handcuffs off when the aunt arrives.
Assistant Police Chief Natoshia Miles said McCormick told Baldwin to stop at least five times as Baldwin left the building and went into the parking lot, and Baldwin declined to follow McCormick’s orders. She said when McCormick took Baldwin into custody, he told her to stop resisting 17 different times. The Winston-Salem Police Department conducted its own internal investigation and also sought an independent assessment from Sgt. Paul Perry of the Elizabeth City Police Department, who is an instructor on use of force for the N.C. Justice Academy.
Perry offered analysis of the video as it played at the news conference and said McCormick displayed techniques designed to de-escalate the situation and used minimal force when Baldwin appeared to resist.
Miles said the various investigations found that McCormick did not violate any policies on the use of force. He has been cleared and removed from administrative duty. He is currently assigned to the criminal investigations division, according to Chris Beechler, one of McCormick’s attorneys. At this time, he is not returning to work as an SRO at Hanes Magnet School.
“If Ms. Baldwin would have changed her behavior and her resistance, she would not have been placed on the ground and placed in handcuffs,” Miles said.
The assistant chief declined to take questions at the news conference, saying there is still an active investigation into Baldwin’s conduct that may or may not result in a juvenile petition being drawn against her. A juvenile petition is a mechanism that starts criminal proceedings in the juvenile-court system.
Beechler said Baldwin had skipped class and was waiting outside of another classroom to attack another student. That student went to administrators, Beechler said, and that’s when McCormick was called to investigate.
Beechler claimed that Baldwin has a history of bullying students at Hanes and other schools.
Bishop Todd Fulton, the social justice chairman of the Ministers’ Conference, and the Rev. Alvin Carlisle, the president of the Winston-Salem chapter of the NAACP, said Friday they believe McCormick complied with the policies on use of force. Fulton said he was not speaking for the Ministers’ Conference, which will meet Tuesday to discuss the issue. He also said that he has a daughter and that it still disturbs him to see a 14-year-old being arrested and put on the ground.
Other members of the Ministers’ Conference still condemned McCormick’s actions.
“Our position is if the way the arrest was handled is considered proper, then the procedure needs to be changed,” the Rev. Carlton Eversley said. “Our position is that this was the abuse of a child.”
The Rev. John Mendez, the pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church, said that McCormick’s bodycam footage and the video shot by a bystander and posted to Facebook shows different versions of the encounter.
The Facebook video shows McCormick pulling Baldwin to the ground on her side, briefly putting his knee on her back and handcuffing her while Baldwin’s face is pinned to the ground, Mendez said.
McCormick’s footage didn’t show exactly how he got Baldwin on the ground, Mendez said.
“It’s not the same video,” he said.
Any suggestion that McCormick was following protocol in his arrest of Baldwin is wrong, Mendez said.
“If that is protocol, it needs to change,” he said.
“We still stand behind Mrs. McLean and her daughter,” Mendez said of the Ministers’ Conference. “In our opinion, her humanity was violated. She didn’t deserve that.”
On Friday afternoon, Baldwin’s mother, Tamkea McLean, was watching the bodycam video. She referred all questions to her attorney, Irena Como of the ACLU of North Carolina.
In a written statement issued late Friday, Como said McCormick’s conduct was unacceptable.
“Instead of de-escalating the situation, he put his hands on a 14-year-old child, forced her to the ground, and handcuffed her,” Como said. “The video released today does not show a police officer using the appropriate level of force in a situation involving a middle-school student. Instead, it shows a child who is scared and upset and emerges from the encounter physically injured and traumatized.”
Como said excessive force against students in North Carolina has become far too common as schools outsource disciplinary and counseling duties to armed law-enforcement officers.
“Across the state, the over-reliance on school-resource officers fuels the school-to-prison pipeline and disproportionately harms and targets students of color,” she said.
The school-to-prison pipeline refers to laws, policies and practices that lead students from the school system and toward the criminal-justice system.
Como said the ACLU is reviewing all available options with the student’s family. She declined to provide details on what those might be.
Beverly Emory, the superintendent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, issued a statement late Friday about the incident.
“This is why discipline issues are not public because these are children and learning situations,” Emory said. “Even when children make poor choices, it is still our job to keep them safe and make these opportunities for them to learn. Every situation like this also gives us an opportunity to reflect on our own practices and see how we can improve.”
James Perry, the president and chief executive of the Winston-Salem Urban League, said Friday that it remains concerned about the approach the police department and school system have toward policing in schools.
“Schools are intended to provide a caring learning environment for children as they mature. It is understood that children will stumble while on the path to adulthood,” Perry said in a statement. “If the new standard is one in which childhood stumbles are confronted with the full and often violent force of the law, then we serve only to harm children who most need the comfort and encouragement of a loving school environment. School-resource officers should act as emergency responders and leave teaching and school discipline to teachers.”
James Perry said he wants an unbiased review of McCormick’s actions and a communitywide review and re-evaluation of policies regarding SROs.
David Freedman, also an attorney for McCormick, said people should be thanking McCormick: “He’s there to protect our kids. He took the less restrained means to protect our children.”