DA: No charges filed on SRO after reviewing alleged assault of 13-year-old student

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No charges will be filled on a School Resource Officer after reviewing an allegation of an assault of a 13-year-old student at the Onslow County Learning Center, District Attorney Ernie Lee said.

On February 6, Lee was contacted by Colonel Chris Thomas of the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office about an incident reported at the Onslow County Learning Center in Hubert. 

The incident involved School Resource Officer Deputy David William Pickett of the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office and a 13-year-old student.  

On February 7, Lee met with Colonel Thomas, Major Brian Baily, and Lt. Lucinda Hernandez about the allegation of an assault by SRO Deputy Pickett upon the student.  

Lee requested the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation to investigate the case. 

Deputies joined Lee’s request to have the SBI investigate the incident.  

The request was made to determine whether excessive force was used by SRO Deputy Pickett against the student.

SRO Deputy Pickett responded to the case when a student allegedly used social media to instigate a fight between two girls.  

Director Walton ordered the student to be placed in ISS to wait for his parents to pick him up.

Based upon the evidence, Angela Hair, an instructor at OCLC, was in the ISS classroom and called for school administration to proceed to ISS because the student in question was using profanity and being defiant.  

Director Walton informed the SBI that when there is a call for assistance the SRO automatically responds as well.  

SRO Deputy Pickett arrived at ISS soon after being contacted by Assistant Director Mastin.  

The student refused to comply with SRO Deputy Pickett’s request to sit at his desk in an appropriate manner.  

According to SRO Deputy Pickett, the student pushed a chair out striking the SRO in the shin with the chair.  

Assault on a law enforcement officer is a criminal offense in the State of North Carolina.  

SRO Deputy Pickett told the student to go to the front office but he refused.  

SRO Deputy Pickett requested the student to just stop and that he did not want to hurt the juvenile student.  

After the student pushed his chair into SRO Deputy Pickett, Assistant Director Mastin heard SRO Deputy Pickett say, “….sit in your chair and do as Ms. Hair asks you to do.”

 Assistant Director Mastin heard the student cursing at the SRO and she heard a chair “scooting” across the floor.  

Assistant Director Mastin then saw the SRO taking the student to the floor to restrain him.  

The student refused to put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed.  

The student was using profanity and referred to SRO Deputy Pickett in racially inflammatory terms.  

The SRO had one hand on the student’s head while he used his other hand to attempt to pull the student’s arm behind his back.  

The student made some movement and the SRO pulled the juvenile student’s head back by his hair.  

The student said he would stop and he was placed back on his feet.  

Assistant Director Mastin never saw the SRO strike or use his fists on the student during this incident.  

Assistant Director Mastin never observed any marks on the student’s face when he got up.

The student never mentioned any injuries to Assistant Director Mastin.  

After SRO Deputy Pickett gained control of the student, the SRO took the student to Director Walton.  

The student was never handcuffed.  

The student remained with the Director and SRO until the juvenile student’s stepfather came to pick him up.  

At approximately 1 p.m., Director Walton received a call from the student’s mother.  

At approximately 2:10 p.m., the student’s family brought the student back to the OCLC and Assistant Director Mastin was “shocked” to see the injuries on the face of the student.

Director Walton was also “shocked” at the injuries observed on the student’s face.  

The student’s mother called Emergency Medical Services who arrived at the school.

Paramedic Alisha Logan of EMS transported the student to Onslow Memorial Hospital.  

While being transported, Paramedic Logan asked the student what happened.  

The student said he got tackled by the SRO and punched in the face twice.  

Dr. Maria Ellen Crespo examined the student.

Crespo said there was no evidence of any signs of pepper spray or taser usage. 

Crespo advised that the injury to the student’s eye could be consistent with being punched but the abrasions were not consistent with being punched.  

The SBI obtained a copy of the medical records of the student.  

Dr. Crespo found that he had likely “sustained a contusion (bruise) to [his] head.”  

Dr. Crespo found there were abrasions around his right eye and left forehead with some bruising under his right eye.

From a medical examination of the student, it is not clear as to when the injuries may have manifested.

Individuals at the school did not observe any injuries.  

Dr. Crespo opined that the student’s eye could be consistent with being punched.  

A review of the video does not depict that the student was punched by the SRO.  

On February 21, SRO Deputy Pickett said that on February 6 he responded to ISS in reference to a juvenile student.  

The student was cursing and not following directions.  

The SRO attempted to push the student’s chair under his desk and the student pushed the chair back multiple times and the SRO said the chair struck his shin.  

The SRO pushed the student on the floor and attempted to restrain him with the body.  

At one point during the altercation grabbed the student by the hair.  

The student continued to curse at the SRO and refused to put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed.  

There is no evidence on the video that SRO Deputy Pickett used any type of strikes, closed hand, open hand, or elbows on the student.  

The video has been viewed many times by the SBI and the District Attorney’s Office. 

At one point in the video, the student’s face is seen facing the camera and the student does not exhibit any apparent injuries on his face.   

According to an investigation, the student would not respond to the directions of the OCLC staff and the SRO was profane and was uncooperative.  

Disorderly conduct at school is a criminal offense in North Carolina.

The disorderly conduct is supported by witnesses other than the SRO who observed the actions and heard the speech of the student.  

Assault on a government or law enforcement officer, while the officer is attempting to discharge the duties of his office is a criminal offense in North Carolina.

The SRO reasonably believed the chair struck his shin.  

However, after careful review of the video, there would be insufficient evidence to prove any alleged assault beyond a reasonable doubt against the student.  

Based on the actions of the student, the office finds that SRO Deputy Pickett was justified in detaining the student.  

An investigation showed that SRO Deputy Pickett did not use excessive force against the student.

In North Carolina, an officer can use such force as he reasonably believes is necessary to effect an arrest.

Reasonableness will be judged from the perspective of the officer on the scene at the time of the incident.  

There is no evidence that SRO Deputy Pickett ever used his weapon, pepper spray, or taser.  

There is no evidence visible on the video that the SRO punched, struck, or hit the student.

However, there is evidence from the video that SRO Deputy Pickett pulled the hair of the student.  

There appears no legal justification or otherwise for the SRO pulling the hair of the student, because at that moment the student does not appear to be a threat to the SRO and since the video does not have audio which does not allow this office to determine what statements, if any, were being made by the student.  

Language alone would not justify the pulling of his hair.  

The actions of the SRO were not appropriate under the circumstances and based upon our review, do not reflect the demeanor and professional restraint that is required of law enforcement.  

At the end of the video, when the student is sitting in his chair just prior to being escorted from the classroom, it appears that the SRO is angry.  

Anger is not a justification to pull the student’s hair.  

A careful review of the video does not lead the prosecutors to conclude that pulling the student’s hair in any way caused any injuries to the face of the juvenile student. 

There is no evidence that the student ever used his hands or fists at any time against the SRO.

There is no evidence that the SRO received any personal injuries or damage to his uniform.

There is no evidence before us that as a law enforcement officer, SRO Deputy Pickett has engaged in any assaultive behavior while performing or attempting to perform or discharge the duties of his office in a law enforcement capacity.  

Evidence shows that SRO Deputy Pickett has substantial training as a law enforcement officer.  

It appears from the totality of the circumstances that SRO Deputy Pickett was effecting lawful detention of the student during the performance of his duties.  

From the evidence, the officer used such force as he reasonably believed necessary to effect detention under the totality of the circumstances.  

It appears from the totality of the evidence that SRO Deputy Pickett did not use excessive force to detain the student although the pulling of the hair does not appear to be justified or necessary under the circumstances.      

There is insufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that SRO Deputy Pickett used excessive force in the detention of the juvenile student based upon the totality of the circumstances.

There is insufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to prove that SRO Deputy Pickett possessed criminal intent in the detention of the juvenile student.  

There is insufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to prove SRO Deputy Pickett criminally assaulted the juvenile student.  

The office has considered the evidence from the video that SRO Deputy Pickett pulled the hair of the juvenile student. 

There appears to be no legal justification or otherwise for the SRO pulling the hair of the juvenile student.  

However, the office is not convinced that in light of the totality of circumstances of the events that occurred on February 6, the actions and language of the juvenile student prior to and during the incident, and lack of evidence that the hair pulling caused any noticeable injuries, the State would be able to prove simple assault beyond a reasonable doubt.  

A total of 17 individuals were interviewed. 

Based upon a review of the investigation, there is insufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to prove that SRO Deputy Pickett committed any simple assault or any other criminal offenses related to the detention of the juvenile student on February 6.

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