(KENOSHA, Wis.) — The family of a 12-year-old girl in Kenosha, Wisconsin, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against police and the city after accusing an off-duty police officer of kneeling on the girl’s neck while trying to break up a fight she was allegedly involved in.
The lawsuit, which was obtained by ABC News, was filed on behalf of the girl’s father Jerrel Perez and his daughter, who is identified as Jane Doe because she is a minor. The complaint names Kenosha Police Officer Shawn Guetschow, the City of Kenosha and the Kenosha Unified School District in the Eastern District of Wisconsin as defendants.
“As a direct and proximate result of the unlawful use of force by Guetschow, Jane Doe suffered physical injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, cervical strain, and recurrent headaches, which has required Jane Doe to undergo medical treatment for her injuries,” the complaint alleges. “As a direct and proximate result of the unlawful use of force by Guetschow, Jane Doe suffered emotional distress, mental trauma, and anxiety, including severe emotional distress, which has required Jane Doe to undergo mental health treatment and counseling and to change schools.”
Video of the incident, which took place during lunchtime in the cafeteria at Kenosha’s Lincoln Middle School on March, 4, 2022, was captured by students.
A video taken by one of the students at the school was obtained by ABC News and shows the officer, who was later identified as Guetschow, responding to a fight between two students. Guetschow was working part-time as a security officer for the Kenosha Unified School District at the time of the incident, officials said.
The 12-year-old girl, who was in the sixth grade, appears to push the officer and then he pins her to the ground and appears to kneel on her neck, according to the video. It is unclear what happened before or after.
Attorney Sam Hall, who is representing the Kenosha Unified School District and Guetschow, told ABC News in a statement on Monday that the school district “will vigorously defend itself and Officer Shawn Guetschow in the civil litigation filed today by Mr. Jerrel Perez.”
“Officer Guetschow continues to recover from injuries he sustained during a physical altercation with a student during lunchtime in the school cafeteria,” Hall said. “As Officer Guetschow was attempting to break up the fight, he was pushed to the ground, his head violently striking a table as he fell to the floor. Officer Guetschow suffered a concussion, significant swelling and a contusion of the head during this incident.”
Hall said in the statement that the school district was informed last week that the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office will not pursue any charges against Guetschow.
The family indicated in May 2022 that they intend to a file a lawsuit through a notice of complaint.
The family’s attorney, Drew DeVinney, told ABC News on May 12, 2022, that the family’s decision to file a lawsuit is “in response to the Kenosha County District Attorney’s decision to criminally charge Jane Doe.”
Asked about the nature of the charges, the Kenosha Police Department did not return a request for comment, but in March 2022, police confirmed to ABC News that a charge of disorderly conduct was referred to juvenile court for Jane Doe, as well as the other student involved in the fight.
Amid a national push for police reform after the death of George Floyd — an unarmed Black man who was killed after a police officer knelt on his neck — Wisconsin banned the use of police chokeholds in June 2021 except in life-threatening situations or when a police officer has to defend themselves. Chokeholds include various neck restraints.
“Guetschow had multiple opportunities to remove his knee from Jane Doe’s neck and failed to do so,” the complaint alleges. “Guetschow’s use of a chokehold and the duration of the chokehold was an unreasonable and unlawful use of force.”
Guetschow resigned from his role with the school district on March 15, 2022, Tanya Ruder, chief communications officer for the Kenosha Unified School District, previously confirmed to ABC News.
In his resignation letter, a copy of which was obtained by ABC News last year, Guetschow cited the “mental and emotional strain” that the public attention surrounding the incident has brought on his family, as well as what he says is “the lack of communication and or support” that he has received from the district.
Kenosha police Lt. Joseph Nosalik told ABC News in a statement on Tuesday that the department “withholds any statement or comment” on the lawsuit as the matter will be addressed in court.
Nosalik said that Guetschow, who was placed on administrative duty pending the outcome of three separate investigations, was returned to active duty status on Jan. 31.
“Officer Guetschow was not found to have violated anyone’s civil rights, nor was he found to have committed a crime. Furthermore, an internal investigation found that Officer Guetschow was not in violation of Kenosha Police Department policy or procedure,” Nosliak said.
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