LAS VEGAS (AP) — A school police officer in Las Vegas was captured on cellphone video last week slamming a high school student to the ground and pinning him underneath his knee, prompting an investigation and renewed calls from Nevada activists who want to see police removed from schools and more resources for students.
The Clark County School District Police Department said the Feb. 9 encounter outside Durango High School in suburban Las Vegas unfolded while officers were investigating a report of a firearm near the campus, but school officials have not released further information, including whether a weapon was found.
District Police Chief Mike Blackeye said in a statement Wednesday that the officer was reassigned to other duties pending the outcome of the investigation into his actions, and Superintendent Jesus Jara said he has called for a “complete review” of the police department’s use of force policy.
The department has not released body camera or dashboard camera videos of the incident, nor has it released the name of the officer. But the local NAACP chapter, in a statement Wednesday calling for the officer’s termination, identified him as Lt. Jason Elfberg.
“The video circulating on the internet made my stomach turn,” said Quentin Savwoir, president of the Las Vegas NAACP branch. “Our scholars deserve to be safe and free from the threat of violence from those entrusted to protect them.”
More than 50 people protested Friday evening at the Clark County School District administrative building, calling for police reform within schools and seeking additional disciplinary action to be taken against Elfberg and other officers. Demonstrators chanted “racist Jason must be terminated” and carried posters condemning systemic racism.
Elfberg’s attorney, Adam Levine, confirmed his client’s involvement in the encounter and told The Associated Press that he is confident that the investigation will clear Elfberg of any wrongdoing.
“The worst thing anybody can do is pre-judge us before the investigation is complete,” Levine said as he urged the public to “let the investigative process take its full course.”
The school district and its police department have not responded to requests for additional information from The Associated Press, including how long Elfberg has been employed and whether he has a disciplinary record.
Public posts on the police department’s Facebook page show Elfberg was promoted last month from sergeant to lieutenant.
The video circulating on social media begins with several district police officers detaining two students as another student walks by recording with his cellphone when Elfberg yells to the student, “You want next, dude?”
The student backs away, lowering his phone, before Elfberg is seen shoving him to the ground next to a patrol vehicle, its lights flashing red and blue. Students in the background can be heard yelling to the officer, “You can’t have him on the ground like that!”
The officer kneels on the student’s back as he lies face-down on the pavement, keeping his knee there until the video ends about 30 seconds later. At one point, the student can be heard asking his friends to call his mother.
The roughly minute-long video of the encounter has been viewed thousands of times on Twitter, with one of several of the posts circulating the video viewed about 50,000 times.
Student Deon Wallace told FOX5 that he was handcuffed by police for jaywalking outside the high school and watched as his friend was slammed to the ground. He said the way the officer used his knee to hold down his friend, who is Black, reminded him of the 2020 killing of George Floyd.
Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground with his knee for nearly 10 minutes, repeatedly yelled, “I can’t breathe.” Floyd’s death sparked a national conversation, including in Nevada, about police reform and alternatives to policing, such as “restorative justice” programs meant to focus on conflict resolution.
Less than two years after Floyd’s death, Clark County School District leaders announced they would take a harder line on fighting and physical altercations, including expulsion. Some blamed the restorative justice approach for an increase in violence.
The American Civil Liberties Union in Nevada has been retained by some of the Las Vegas students for assistance with possible future litigation.
“The police response here was so extreme,” said West Juhl, a spokesperson for the ACLU. “We’re just coming off the heels of one of the best examples of the need for police accountability in Memphis, and here we have adult police officers assaulting children.”
Memphis police were caught on video fatally beating Tyre Nichols, a Black man, following a traffic stop in January. Authorities later revealed there appeared to be no justification for the stop. Five officers have been fired and charged with second-degree murder.
Juhl commended the Las Vegas students for continuing to record the police encounter last week — even after they witnessed one of their friends being slammed to the ground as he pointed a camera at the officers.
“It’s so upsetting to watch the video and to have such a strong reaction because they’re children,” Juhl said, “and to have that mixed with this feeling of, ‘Thank God, they got it on video.’”
The school district is the fifth largest in the U.S. with about 300,000 students. Its police department has nearly 200 sworn officers who have the authority to make arrests and issue traffic citations.
Associated Press video journalist Ty O’Neil in Las Vegas contributed.