‘CCSD lied’: ACLU criticizes district for lack of transparency in Durango High incident – Las Vegas Review-Journal

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The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday said the release of school police body-camera video of an officer throwing a Black student to the ground near Durango High School last year provided a clear message.

“CCSD lied,” ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Athar Haseebullah said.

During a nearly one-hour news conference at the ACLU’s North Las Vegas office, Haseebullah, ACLU Legal Director Chris Peterson and Quentin Savwoir, president of the Las Vegas chapter of the NAACP, called for police and government agencies to be held accountable.

The ACLU sued the Clark County School District to make the body-camera footage public after cellphone video of the altercation spread online. In December, District Judge Danielle Chio ordered the district to release the footage.

In videos released Thursday night, school district police Lt. Jason Elfberg is detaining one student while another walks by recording on his phone. Elfberg grabbed that student, pulled him onto the ground and placed a knee on his back while yelling at nearby students to back up.

When Elfberg arrived at the scene, he said to a separate student walking across the street, “You wanted my attention, you got it.”

Just before grabbing the student and tackling him to the ground, Elfberg asked him: “You want next?”

The Clark County School District said in a statement that it offered to release redacted copies of body-camera video to the ACLU in March 2023, provided the ACLU obtained permission from its clients. The district said the ACLU refused and filed a lawsuit.

“Under Nevada law, we are required to protect the identity and safety of minors and the rights of police officers,” the statement read. “Those laws were upheld, and the release of the court-ordered video shows that the rights of citizens were honored and laws were followed despite the challenges of that day’s events near Durango High School.”

School police did not immediately respond with comment.

Haseebullah called the school district’s explanation that the incident stemmed from reports of a firearm in the area a “BS justification to stop and accost children.”

“As we’ve seen from the video, the basis for the stop was because one student looked at this officer — officer (Jason) Elfberg —in a manner that the officer did not like,” Haseebullah said.

Savwoir demanded that school board trustees revise the police use of force policy, that District Attorney Steve Wolfson investigate the incident, that school police receive stronger education, and that police unions stop protecting a “culture of violence and aggression.”

The Clark County district attorney’s office did not immediately respond with comment.

“If you talk to any young person in CCSD, they would tell you that these are not newsworthy incidents,” Savwoir said. “They see this type of aggression amongst the folks that are supposed to protect our scholars and young people on a fairly regular occurrence.”

Peterson said the ACLU is reviewing the body-camera footage and looking into legal issues presented in the videos released by the district, including what he said are First and Fourth Amendment violations.

In one section of the video highlighted by the ACLU, Elfberg told a student: “First of all, I can come and stop anybody I want.”

Peterson said people have the right to videotape police officers as well as criticize and question them as bystanders did in this case. He called their actions admirable in the face of threats of retaliation from officers who said bystanders would be arrested if they did not walk away.

“We have seen repeatedly, over and over again, across this country that often the only way we get accountability from police that engage in misconduct is from brave people who are standing by recording and questioning the police,” Peterson said.

Peterson said Elfberg’s conduct brings up the question of whether school police train their officers on recognizing constitutional violations.

The school district released Elfberg’s police report in which he wrote that the student tackled to the ground attempted to stop Elfberg from detaining another student. Elfberg’s body camera shows the student backing away from Elfberg before he is thrown down.

“I don’t think the reports are going to match up with the body-camera footage just like their narrative didn’t match up with the body-camera footage,” Haseebullah said.

Contact David Wilson at [email protected].

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