Body cam video shows Fort Lauderdale Police officer’s use of force involving ‘intellectually disabled’ 10-year-old student

(WSVN) - A Fort Lauderdale Police officer was charged with battery this week, a month after being caught on camera pushing a protester, and while his past cases are suddenly under the microscope, one incident from an elementary school has not gotten attention until now. The Nightteam’s Kevin Ozebek investigates.

On May 31, Officer Steven Pohorence shoved a kneeling woman during a Black Lives Matter protest.

Since then, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department has looked into the numerous times Officer Pohorence has used force.

Officer Steven Pohorence, Sept. 23, 2019: “Put your hands…”

Man: “Bro, please bro, let me go!”

Two incidents where Pohorence appears to put his knee on the necks of men being arrested were sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for review.

Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Rick Maglione, June 23: “These videos are concerning his response to resistance and the general manner in which those incidents were handled.”

But it is this incident, included in hours of body camera video released by the department, that caught our eye.

Vanessa Cabrera, board certified behavior analyst: “It started off fine, but the way it progressed and escalated, specifically with the threats he was making and the physical intervention, I don’t think it was handled properly.”

According to a police report obtained by 7News, Officer Pohorence was working an off-duty detail last October at Bennett Elementary School.

The guidance counselor asked for his help with a student who “grabbed a pair of scissors and attempted to attack children in the classroom.”

Steven Pohorence: “Sweetie, come here…”

The officer’s response was captured on his body camera.

Steven Pohorence: “If you don’t walk, you’re going to go in handcuffs.”

In the video, Pohorence is trying to bring the 10-year-old girl back inside the building.

Steven Pohorence: “You good? You’re going to walk now on your own like a big girl?”

Student: “No!”

Steven Pohorence: “No, no, no, no, no.”

Once inside, he stops and says this…

Steven Pohorence: “Listen to me, if you pinch my hand and dig your nails into me, I’m going to one, break your wrist, and then, you’re going in handcuffs.”

The school counselor, Pohorence and the student enter an office.

Steven Pohorence: “Sit down, OK? Go talk to the counselor, sit down. Come on, sit down.”

But the student does not sit down.

Seconds later — this.

Steven Pohorence: “All right, this is enough. Come here!”

Student: “No!!! No!!!”

Steven Pohorence: “I don’t want to hurt you! I’m trying to make this easy on you.”

The officer brings her to the floor.

Steven Pohorence: “Put your hands … I had enough.”

The police report says “the child is intellectually disabled and has a history of behavioral health issues,” and according to the guidance counselor, “has been Baker Acted numerous times.”

Steven Pohorence: “Can I have a unit please, Bennett Elementary? I have a female detained for Baker Act.”

We showed the video and police report to child behavior expert Vanessa Cabrera.

She says not complying is not uncommon for those with an intellectual disability.

Vanessa Cabrera: “It seemed like he was treating her like any other suspect or child and not taking into consideration the fact that she had intellectual disability and might not have been understanding what happened.”

Activist Tifanny Burks says the case highlights the need for more mental health professionals in schools.

Tifanny Burks, Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward: “This is a young girl who was traumatized, and she needed support. She needed some extra guidance, and instead, she was over-policed.”

Back to the body camera video…

Steven Pohorence: “This is ridiculous. You’re a child. I shouldn’t have to put my hands on you. Never in a million years did I think I would have to do this at an elementary school. It’s crazy.”

The handcuffed student stops screaming and lays quietly on the floor.

Steven Pohorence: “Come on, sweetie, stand up. Bring your knees to your chest. I’ll help you up.”

Officer Pohorence then walks her outside.

Steven Pohorence: “Are you injured? No? OK.”

And another officer takes over.

Steven Pohorence: “This nice officer is going to take you to the hospital, hang on.”

An internal affairs review of documents at the time found “no apparent violations of department policy,” but Fort Lauderdale Police now require investigators review all body camera video in cases like this where an officer uses force.

STATEMENT FROM MICHAEL DUTKO, ATTORNEY FOR OFFICER:

“Having reviewed the police report of the Baker Act incident in question as well as the entirety of the video from the body-worn camera, it is clear that Officer Pohorence demonstrated remarkable restraint, control and compassion in dealing with and physically restraining the young student in question who had threatened to stab other students and school staff with scissors.  Remember, Officer Pohorence was summoned to the school to handle this difficult and dangerous situation because the staff and faculty could not.  In the end the student was restrained, handcuffed, and Baker Acted without injury to herself or anyone else.”

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