Police officer charged with child abuse after throwing 15-year-old to ground

CCTV footage shows two other people present in the room while victim was attacked

Willard Miller was suspended without pay and could face significant fines
Willard Miller was suspended without pay and could face significant fines

A sheriff’s deputy assigned to a public school in Florida was charged with child abuse after school surveillance footage showed him grabbing a 15-year-old student by the neck and slamming her to the ground, officials have said.

The video of the September encounter at Cross Creek School in Pompano Beach, Florida, starts with the student, whose name was not released, and the deputy, Willard Miller of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, standing in a room together with two other people.

The teenager walks up behind the deputy and pokes him in the back of the knee with her foot while he is looking at his phone.

For about a minute, Mr Miller, can be seen talking to the girl before he lunges towards her, grabs her neck and throws her to the ground on her back.

He then flips her over onto her stomach and pins her down while holding her wrists together.

The video has no audio and it is not clear what words were exchanged, why any of the people were in the room or what type of room it was.

At a news conference, Gregory Tony of Broward County said that it did not matter what was said in the room or whether Mr Miller was antagonised.

“I would hope that every cop in America would disagree with that type of response,” he said.

Mr Miller, a school resource deputy at the school, is charged with one count of child abuse without causing great bodily harm. If convicted of the third-degree felony, he could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 (£3,900) fine. He was suspended from the sheriff’s office without pay on 28 October.

Mr Miller appeared in court and was released on $5,000 bond, according to Veda Coleman-Wright, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.

He was hired by the sheriff’s office in August 2016, Ms Coleman-Wright said. He was assigned to the school in February 2018. Mr Tony said at the news conference that Mr Miller had no prior disciplinary record.

Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, said that the group is representing Mr Miller. Mr Bell declined to comment on the case before more is known about what words were exchanged.

A lawyer representing the accused, Jeremy Kroll, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr Tony said that the Broward County Public Schools system was also investigating the encounter.

The school district did not immediately respond to requests for comment either.

Mr Tony said that the student was being “treated or examined” before the encounter, but he declined to release further information, citing a continuing investigation. He said he did not know what the deputy was doing in the room.

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The Broward County Sheriff’s Office has come under heightened scrutiny since the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 dead.

In December, a state commission investigating the shooting found that eight deputies had ignored protocol for active shooters that calls for pursuing a gunman to try to disarm him.

The Florida Senate voted last month to remove Mr Tony’s predecessor, backing governor Ron DeSantis’ decision to oust the previous sheriff over the botched response to the massacre.

Mr Tony said that Tuesday’s charges reflected a changing culture at the Broward County Sheriff’s Office that increasingly prioritised disciplinary action for misbehaving deputies.

“If they fail in the field to perform their jobs,” he said, “it’s my responsibility to hold them accountable.”

The New York Times

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