Police body cam video showing the arrest of a 14-year-old Hanes Magnet Middle School student in early October is now posted on the Winston-Salem Police Department website.
The Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem & Vicinity called for the termination of the arresting officer, Tyler McCormick, after the student’s mother posted video taken by a bystander of the officer forcibly arresting her daughter, Rockell Baldwin, in the school parking lot by pinning her to the ground.
The video, which shows the Oct. 5 incident from the officer’s perspective, shows McCormick attempting to cuff the Baldwin’s hands behind her back as she tries to pull her hands away and then tumbles to the ground. The officer’s hands are not visible in the video, and it’s difficult to tell whether he pushed her down or she fell accidentally. Later, Baldwin is lying face down on the pavement and the officer again tries to secure her hands behind her back, the officer’s legs are not visible and the video doesn’t shed any light on whether he used his knee to pin her to the ground.
The clergy members said in a statement last month: “We have all seen the video of this 14-year-old student being pressed into the ground, her face shoved in the pavement and the officer’s knee to her back and weight on her body. Meanwhile, the principal and assistant principal stand by and watch.”
The issue of whether McCormick pressed Baldwin’s face into the pavement or placed his knee on her back was a point Assistant Chief Natoshia Miles was anxious to address during a press conference this morning.
“In response to the initial community concerns regarding Officer McCormick’s actions and as observed in the video, Officer McCormick never placed his knee in Ms. Baldwin’s back, nor did he place his hands against her face and push her face into the asphalt,” Miles said.
The police department asked Sgt. Paul Perry of the Elizabeth City Police Department, who is certified as a use-of-force instructor by the NC Justice Academy, to provide an independent review of the incident.
Perry said that McCormick used the lowest level of “soft-hand physical force possible” to bring Baldwin into compliance after attempting to detain her for a legitimate investigative purpose.
“When Officer McCormick realized the instructions at the verbal dialogue stage were not being followed, he was forced to slightly graduate his use of force,” Perry said. “As you see in the video, Officer McCormick used very light force exertion to bring Ms. Baldwin to the ground. His actions were extremely deliberate and not dynamic in nature. Officer McCormick was in control of his body as well as Ms. Baldwin’s body throughout the taking her to the ground.”
The forcible arrest takes place about a minute into the 65-minute video. Prior to that point, the video shows Officer McCormick following the student down a hallway, out a door and into the parking lot. “Come on,” McCormick says. “Listen, I just want to talk to you about whatever you’re involved in up here.”
During a press conference last month, Bishop Todd Fulton of the Ministers Conference related an explanation from the family as to why Baldwin was leaving the school.
“The mother and child said the child was leaving class; she had a pass from her teacher,” Fulton said at the time. “She was having female problems, cramps, and she needed to call her mother for some personal female items, and she was on her way down the hall when the resource officer stopped her.”
McCormick’s lawyer, Chris Beechler, provided a dramatically different account during the press conference today.
“When he approached the student in the lobby of the guidance office he had been advised by school staff that the student had skipped her last class,” Beechler said. “She was laying in wait outside of another classroom waiting to attack and fight another student. This was not the first time she’d had these issues. This was not the first school in which she’d had these issues.
“The student then followed this victim up the stairs to her next class,” Beechler continued. “The victim was aware of this. She went directly to the office because she was scared. Officer McCormick then went to he office, saw this would-be victim was frightened, was hysterical, crying, did not want to be beaten up, did not want to get into a fight.”
Beechler said McCormick did what he needed to do to keep the students at Hanes Magnet Middle School safe, and to keep Baldwin safe by preventing her from leaving campus.
“She made the decision over a minute and change to not comply with a police officer’s commands,” Beechler said. “He did what he had to do in the least forceful, lest restrictive ways that it can be done.”
BH Media (publisher of the Winston-Salem Journal), Hearst Television (WXII 12), Tribune Media (MyFox8) and WFMY News 2 petitioned for the release of the video. Superior Court Judge Anderson Cromer ordered the release on Thursday.
Cromer wrote in his order that counsel for the officer and for the city appeared at the hearing and expressed no objection to the release of the video, and that the media petitioners “informed the court through counsel” that the student’s mother “supported release.”
The student’s mother, Tamkea McLean, said via Facebook only that the officer “was wrong period.”
Cromer’s order indicates that the district attorney objected on the basis “that release would compromise an active ongoing criminal investigation that could result in a potential juvenile petition for the female juvenile whose image and conduct is depicted in the video.”
The media petitioners wrote in their brief that “courts routinely have recognized that ‘when the conduct of public officials is at issue, the public’s interest in the operation of government adds weight in the balance toward allowing permission to copy judicial records.'”
The petition also argued that setting of the incident should mitigate concerns about privacy.
“Unlike a recording that might result from law enforcement execution of a warrant within a private home or business, the recordings at issue in this case likely show, from multiple vantage points, what could have been (and were) observed by any person present in the public areas of a public middle school or outside the school on public property,” the brief said.
The petitioners also noted that the anonymity of the 14-year-old student was no longer possible because she and her mother had already come forward and identified her as the subject of the arrest at Hanes Magnet Middle School. The petitioners attached printouts of multiple media reports in which the student was identified by name.
Mike Tadych, the lawyer for the media organizations, said he argued that the district attorney was “‘asking to un-ring a bell.’
“The judge said something quite memorable,” Tadych continued. “He said, ‘They chose to do this.’ When you start a fire, there are consequences.'”
Cromer said in the order that he “determined that the release of portions but not all of the recordings is necessary to advance a compelling public interest and good cause has been shown to release the portions of the recordings as provided herein.”
After the Oct. 5 incident at Hanes Magnet Middle School, Officer McCormick was transferred from the Educational Services Unit to the Investigative Services Bureau while the police undertook an administrative investigation.
Assistant Chief Miles said the department has closed its administrative investigation into Officer McCormick’s use of force, with a finding of no policy violations.
“I’d like everybody to know that this has changed his career path,” Beechler said. “He is a wonderful officer, has been for seven years. He loved being [a school resource officer]. He cannot be there anymore right now, although he would go back in a minute. To take a hit like this and be alleged to have done. Something wrong and have your job called for without any of the facts is just irresponsible.”
Bishop Todd Fulton, who attended the press conference, said having seen the police video and having learned more about the facts surrounding the incident, he no longer believes Officer McCormick should be fired.
“The optical is very disturbing for me to see a 14-year-old child taken down,” Fulton said. “I have a daughter. But this officer did what he had to do at this moment. Truth is portable, and you can take it anywhere. After watching the video we get to see the truth of what really happened. I think it was a premature call to ask for Officer McCormick’s job without first seeing the facts.”
Fulton added that he still wants to see policy changes in how children are policed in school.
“But I am in agreement with changing policy — school policy,” he said. “If you don’t want kids at 14 to be arrested you need to make your way to Forsyth County School Board, and talk to our newly-elected school board members, and change the policy. Officer McCormick followed the policy.”
This story was updated at 5:18 p.m.