After an altercation with two Chicago cops at her high school, 16-year-old Dnigma Howard was charged with assaulting peace officers. Newly released surveillance video tells a very different story, one in which she fought back only after the officers physically assaulted her. By the end, Howard had been dragged down a flight of stairs, punched, and tased.
The incident occurred January 29 at Marshall High School. Howard had admittedly been using her cell phone in the classroom, prompting her to be told to go to a different room, which she didn't want to do. "I went to the second floor at the top of the stairs," she told the Chicago Tribune in February. "The police came up the stairs and they was like, you need to get your coat and go to the in-school room. I was like, 'I don't want to go in there.'"
According to police's version of events, Howard was the aggressor. She did resist the officers, and she admits to biting one of them during the struggle. But the video shows who escalated the incident into violence, and it wasn't Howard.
The video, first published by the Chicago Sun-Times, shows Howard standing in a hallway between two officers. Howard steps away, only to be forcefully grabbed by one of the cops, who drags her toward a stairwell:
The video then picks up from the bottom of that stairwell. Howard falls down the stairs and is punched multiple times by the officers while she's on the ground, and eventually tased. Her father, Laurentio Howard, who was supposed to take his daughter home, found himself watching as police hit her.
"I couldn't believe I seen two sworn police officers of Chicago abusing my daughter like this and I'm standing right there watching them do this and can't do anything about it," he tells WLS. "I thought maybe they were going to try to choke her out or she would lose consciousness or something like that," he says. "They had their foot on her chest."
Howard's resistance was a "natural reaction," her father tells WITI. "She wasn't really fighting back. She was defending herself. They were kicking her and stomping her and stuff. She tensed up."
The teen was charged with aggravated battery against both officers, but the charges were dropped days after the incident with little explanation. The Chicago police union isn't happy about that. "They did everything they could to protect her from being hurt and they used the Taser because she seriously injured those two officers and she needs to be recharged," Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham tells WGN.
The family, which is being represented by civil attorney Andrew Stroth, has filed a federal civil rights complaint against the city, the public school system, and the individual officers. "The video evidence completely contradicts the narrative given by the police," Stroth tells BuzzFeed.
The officers, who the Sun-Times identified as Johnnie Pierre and Sherry Tripp, have been reassigned and are no longer working at that school. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) is investigating the incident, as is the district's inspector general.
This kind of thing is nothing new for the Chicago police. Whether it's crashing a 4-year-old's birthday party and pointing guns at the terrified kids or using handcuffs to beat a teenager over the head, there's plenty of evidence that the department could use more oversight.