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GRAPHIC: Parents say officer used excessive force against middle schooler

Published: May. 10, 2022 at 3:15 PM MDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT/Gray News) - The parents of a middle school student in Tennessee filed a lawsuit against the Knoxville Police Department and a specific officer after they say body cam video shows the officer used excessive force against their son.

The parents of the former Northwest Middle School student filed the lawsuit against the department and Officer David Lee, according to court documents obtained by WVLT.

On April 19, 2021, the eighth-grade student, who remains unnamed to protect his identity as a juvenile, was on his way to the bathroom when Lee detained him by grabbing his backpack and not letting go, according to the documents.

The documents allege that Lee threatened to arrest the teen if he did not give him his backpack, with Lee claiming he could smell an odor of marijuana coming from the backpack.

A later search of the backpack and student did not yield any drugs or drug paraphernalia.

The student was confused by Lee’s command to search his backpack, but rather than get a teacher involved in the situation, Lee aggressively grabbed the student’s arms and forcefully restrained him, according to the documents.

The documents say that Lee then swept the student’s legs and slammed him face-first into the ground without his arms to brace for the impact.

Lee then placed his knee on the student’s neck, making it difficult for him to breathe, the documents say.

The officer then took the student into a room without cameras, where he forced him into a chair.

The documents say that Lee lifted the handcuffed, underweight student off of his feet by his arms and slammed his face into the hardwood table with the totality of his strength and weight, causing him to “scream in agonizing pain.”

The actions of the officer caused the student to sustain multiple injuries, the documents allege, including a large laceration on the boy’s chin, as well as emotional and mental trauma, according to the documents.

Another officer showed up to take the student to jail and asked him if he needed an ambulance. Lee said that he would call one for the boy’s injured chin.

The student was charged with resisting arrest, which was later dismissed in juvenile court, the documents say.

The boy’s family sued the Knoxville Police Department for two civil rights violations: using excessive force and unreasonable seizure and failure to train and supervise.

The family sued Lee for using excessive force and unreasonable seizure, assault and battery and outrageous conduct/intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The family requested that the student be awarded compensation for all injuries caused by the incident as well as compensatory and punitive damages not to exceed $1 million for either.

“The family hopes and expects that during the course of this lawsuit that an actual and meaningful investigation into the actions taken by the officer is opened,” a lawyer representing the family said. “The family also feels that Northwest Middle School and its administrators should be made to answer for their role in this traumatic experience.”

When asked, a spokesman with the police department declined to comment on the case due to pending litigation, but did confirm that Lee is a student resource officer working at West High School.

Copyright 2022 WVLT via Gray Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved.