Henderson County Sheriff's Office: No bodycam video of deputy striking 5th-grader, pinning with knee – Citizen Times

November 14, 2022

HENDERSONVILLE – A high-ranking sheriff’s deputy has said there is no body camera footage of an alleged violent school encounter between a twice-fired deputy and a fifth-grader in which the officer pinned the child to the ground with his knee and struck the child.
That was according to a sworn statement by Capt. Jake McMurray with the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office, whose affidavit was submitted at a Nov. 10 Henderson County Superior Court hearing.
The hearing was in response to a petition by the Citizen Times to release any law enforcement recordings of the May 9 incident between the child and Deputy Alan Brackett.
Past reporting on Alan Brackett, HCSOSBI investigating school resource officer’s use of force on Fletcher Elementary student
Officer fired more than once previously:Fletcher Elementary SRO investigated by SBI
Policies set by Henderson County Sheriff Lowell Griffin require deputies to activate cameras in “all enforcement” contacts and “any other contact that becomes adversarial after the initial contact in a situation that would not otherwise require recording.”
After the hearing, Johnny Duncan, spokesperson for Sheriff Lowell Griffin, said Brackett was unable to activate the camera.
“The incident involving Deputy Brackett was a very dynamic event that escalated quickly and did not afford him the opportunity to activate his body worn camera, therefore there are no body worn camera recordings,” Duncan said.
Citing state personnel privacy laws, Griffin’s office has declined to discuss specifics of the incident, where Brackett allegedly knocked the child out of a chair, pinned the fifth-grader − who said they could not breathe − and struck the child in the face, according to an email from the then-school superintendent to the school board. But on Nov. 10 Duncan addressed that question, pointing to a State Bureau of Investigation probe.
Emails:Fletcher SRO ‘struck’, pinned down fifth-grader; DA now reviewing case
Henderson County DA:Cop’s force against 5th-grader was ‘not excessive’; no charges
After that SBI investigation, District Attorney Andrew Murray declined to press charges, saying there was no criminal action by Brackett. That was despite a school board member calling the incident “horrific” after viewing a video of it that came from a school security camera.
In his Nov. 10 statement, Duncan said that, along with the criminal investigation, there was an internal review that “revealed no excessive use of force and no (Henderson County Sheriff’s Office) Use of Force Policy violation.”
Brackett’s public personnel record shows no disciplinary action, though he was transferred from his school resource officer position to patrol.
Officers are not required by law to wear bodycams in North Carolina, though many departments have enacted policies making them mandatory. The state has passed a law restricting public access to bodycam videos. It says for a member of the public to get a copy of such footage they must convince a Superior Court judge of a reason, including “a compelling public interest.”
Maria Haberfeld, policing expert from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said policies should dictate that “any physical interaction, especially when it comes to interactions with juveniles” should mandate activation of a bodycam, though it might not be possible at times to do so.
“Some departments require the activation throughout the entire shift, others just during certain encounters,” Haberfeld said.
Fletcher Elementary:Deputy in Fletcher Elementary incident no longer SRO for Henderson County Public Schools
Henderson school board member:Video of deputy striking 5th grade child ‘horrific’
According to an email from then-Superintendent John Bryant to the School Board, the child was in the main office for being disruptive.
“During this time, the SRO grabbed the student by the back of (their) hoodie,” and they were “knocked out” of a chair when Brackett pinned the student to the ground “by placing his knee on (their) chest.”
The student “repeatedly asked” the SRO to let go and stated that they “could not breathe,” the message says. Principal Tammy Deaver “had to also repeatedly ask the SRO to let the student go which resulted in the SRO placing the student in another chair.”
“At this time, the student continued to be verbally disruptive and the SRO struck the student in the face,” Bryant wrote. “Mrs. Deaver immediately intervened and removed the student from the altercation.”
“While I will share more details this afternoon in closed session, please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions,” Bryant told board members.
Only one board member, Stacey Caskey, has spoken publicly about it. She told the Citizen Times it was “visceral” and “horrific” to watch and that she could not understand why Brackett had not yet been fired.
The child’s grandmother, with whom the child lives, could not be reached for comment Nov. 10.
The grandmother previously told the Citizen Times that she was informed that the Rutherford County Department of Social Services would need to sign off on the release of the school’s video — a surprise to her, as the child lives with her, and she was the person called out to Fletcher Elementary after the incident.
Dee Hunt, the director of Rutherford County DSS, told the Citizen Times that she was “not at liberty” to discuss why the agency had not signed off on the video’s release on Nov. 10.
DA Murray confirmed that he viewed the school video. Asked if he would consider releasing it or any other portion of the SBI report, Murray declined, saying state laws protecting juveniles forbade it.
“I don’t believe I have the authority to release it. It involves a juvenile and anything regarding a juvenile is protected,” he said.
Such footage, which is controlled by the school system, is considered different by law than bodycam videos, which are in the possession of law enforcement agencies. Educational institutions often argue they are part of an educational record. Henderson County Public Schools made that claim when the Citizen Times filed a public records request for the video in September.
“The video you requested contains student information and images and is confidential under federal law,” Henderson County Public Schools spokesperson Kimbrell Arrowood said in a Sept. 26 email.
Protections for juveniles in such cases stem from the U.S. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government, and other news. He’s written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Got a tip? Contact Burgess at jburgess@citizentimes.com, 828-713-1095, or on Twitter @AVLreporter. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times. 
Ryan Oehrli covers public safety for the Citizen Times. Send tips to coehrli@citizentimes.com or 828-232-5907.


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