By Miriam Raftery
October 25, 2018 (La Mesa)—Brianna Bell, a Helix Charter High School student shown on video slammed to the ground in handcuffs by a La Mesa Police officer, has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of La Mesa (Brianna Bell v. City of La Mesa, Scott Wulfing, U.S. District Court Case No. 18CV2455 BEN BLM).
The lawsuit alleges that LMPD School Resource Officer Scott Wulfing used excessive force, violated Bell’s civil rights, inflicted emotional distress, and committed assault and battery. Officer Wulfing is also named individually in the suit. He is on administrative leave pending the outcome of a third party independent investigation.
The incident occurred after the 17-year-old student attended an in-school suspension on January 18, 2018 for being tardy, then told her teacher she felt ill and suffers from anemia, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The suit states that a teacher accused the girl of taking drugs and the student gave permission for her backpack to be searched. No drugs were found, but the teacher did find pepper spray, which is illegal for a minor to possess in California. The lawsuit states that Bell carried the pepper spray for self defense.
According to the suit, the next day Bell had a scheduled meeting with the principal, Paula Trevino. Shortly after, Trevino told her to leave campus but Bell objected, asking to speak with her teacher first.
Police indicated the student was arrested for refusing to leave the school when ordered and forced to the ground after she tried to escape. The video went viral, with more than 133,000 views to date, prompting protests by students and civil rights activists alleging police brutality by the white officer against Bell, who is African-American. Bell's suit says she was slammed to the ground after she was handcuffed and told the officer that he was hurting her. After being pulled to her feet, she was slammed onto the concrete a second time with the officer on top of her.
The suit contends that excessive force was used "without cause, when Ms. BELL was not an immediate threat to the safety of the officer or
others, and while Ms. BELL was not resisting nor attempting to evade arrest by flight."
"I can't event put into words how I feel. I just feel so hurt that this happens all the time. That my situation as horrific as it is, is not unique. I feel powerless," Bell, who suffered minor abrasions, told News 8 in February.
Bell filed a claim for damages with the city of La Mesa, which rejected the claim.
“The City is in the process of evaluating the lawsuit and will respond accordingly,” a statement issued by the city of La Mesa today states. The City hired a third party independent investigator, Barry Aninag, B.A. Invsetigation,s LLC, to conduct a confidential investigation back on February 26th.
According to the city, “Aninag attempted unsuccessfully on several occasions to contact and interview Ms. Bell.” The city’s independent special legal counsel sent a letter to Bell’s Attorney, Troy P. Owens Jr., on Sept. 12 requesting cooperating in arranging an interview with Bell by Aninag no later than October 27th.
“To date, Mr. Owens has not responded,” the City states. “Consequently, the completion of the investigation has been put on hold pending an interview with Ms. Bell. The City’s independent special legal counsel will be evaluating the status of the investigation moving forward, and providing an update.”
ECM contacted Owens to request comments on behalf of his client, but thus far he has not responded.