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Oakland Student Choked by Security Officers Sues School District

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Update, 6:15 p.m. Friday: A student who was choked and dragged by campus security officers at East Oakland's Fremont High in 2014 is filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the school district.

The lawsuit (embedded below) comes on the two-year anniversary of an altercation between two school security officers and Jonathan Rodriguez, then 15. Video of the incident, captured by school cameras, was not released until a year later by the newly appointed chief of Oakland School Police Department, Jeff Godown.

The lawsuit names the Oakland Unified School District, the district's Police Department, Fremont High School administrators and the two department security guards involved in the incident, Noil Angelo and Carlton Johnson. Both guards resigned after the video was made public, and their actions were condemned by both Godown and Oakland schools superintendent Antwan Wilson.

In the suit, Rodriguez, a Latino special-education student, says he had his civil rights violated and that failure to release the video immediately amounted to a cover-up.


Lawyer Ronald Cruz, with the activist group By Any Means Necessary, represents Rodriguez, who is now 17. Cruz has represented several students who have accused the Oakland School Police Department of excessive force, including another videotaped incident involving Francisco Martinez, a student who uses a wheelchair. The officer in that case, Marchell Mitchell, was convicted of assault. The school district settled a civil suit by Mitchell for an unspecified amount.

Cruz and the family say they are considering seeking criminal charges in the case as well.

Original Post, March 25, 2015:

The parents of a high school student in Oakland are considering suing the school district over a videotaped incident in which their son was manhandled by school security officers.

Jonathan Rodriguez was 15 and a freshman at Fremont High School when the episode took place in January 2014. Security camera footage shows him standing in the doorway of the school's office for about three minutes as people come and go. Then two security officers approach.

After a brief conversation, one shoves Rodriguez from behind and the other puts him in a chokehold. The video then shows the men -- security officers Noil Angelo and Carlton Johnson -- struggling to drag Rodriguez across the office.

An Oakland Unified School District police summary of the incident deemed it an appropriate use of force. The district made the video public earlier this month.

Rodriguez’s mother approached Principal Emiliano Sanchez about the incident just days after it happened, according to family attorney Ronald Cruz.

“The principal sat down with the video with the mother, and told her that her son was in the wrong,” said Cruz, who says he may file a lawsuit against the district. “She was humiliated.”

Sanchez declined comment for this story. School district spokesman Troy Flint says Superintendent Antwan Wilson has spoken to Sanchez about the incident, but so far has taken no action.

The two security guards, Noil Angelo and Carlton Johnson, are on paid leave, pending the results of an inquiry being conducted by a private investigator.

Angelo has worked at Fremont High for many years and, according to several sources, is a well-respected figure on the campus, having served as the school’s baseball coach for several years. Neither he nor Johnson could be reached for comment.

The school district has its own police force, overseen by Chief Jeff Godown, a veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, the SFPD and the UCSF police force, who started in Oakland a little more than three months ago. The force is made up of about 84 school security officers, like those involved in this incident, and about 15 sworn police officers.

Godown said he pulled the file in the Rodriguez case a few weeks ago, when Cruz requested it. He immediately knew something wasn’t right.

“It’s troubling for me,” said Godown. “I didn’t see a reason [for the use of force.] I didn’t see a reason for him to be pushed in the back. I didn’t see a reason for him to be immediately turned around and choked.”

Godown said multiple officers signed off on the use of force in this incident. Everyone from officers to school administrators will be investigated to see who knew about the video and when, he says.

District spokesman Flint notes the school district police force is also reviewing five years' worth of complaints against school security officers to see if there are systemic flaws in the way officers treat students.

Attorney Cruz represents two other Oakland students who have accused school security officers of abuse in Oakland. One videotaped incident last May involved Francisco Martinez, 17, a wheelchair-bound student. The officer in that case, Marchell Ernest Mitchell, was charged with felony corporal injury in a case reportedly set for trial next month.

“This is not about one stray officer. It’s a policy that goes all the way to the administration,” said Cruz.

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