Mother, attorney of teen punched by Coral Springs officer at mall speak out

CORAL SPRINGS, FLA. (WSVN) - The mother and attorney of a teenage girl who was captured on cellphone video being beaten by an officer outside of a mall in Coral Springs are speaking out on the controversial arrest, but officials said the viral clip doesn’t tell the whole story.

The video, recorded Thursday at Coral Square Mall, shows the 14-year-old girl face down on the ground, on top of her hands, as two Coral Springs Police officers try to handcuff her. During the confrontation, an officer is seen punching the girl twice in the ribs.

“Why are you hitting her?” a girl is heard screaming in the video. “She can’t do it. She can’t do that. Her hands underneath her.”

The video has many in the community in an uproar. The teen’s mother, Jessica Dennis, spoke with 7News about the incident on Friday.

“I’m angry. I would never expect this to happen,” she said.

Dennis said the daughter is not seen in the video fighting back.

“She clearly wasn’t aggressive. Everyone could see she was laying there,” she said, “so I just want justice to be served.”

Dennis and her daughter have hired attorney Meeghan Moldof, who said the officer used excessive force during the arrest.

“It’s clear from the video that my client was on the ground. Her hands are under her belly, the officer’s knees are on her back, and he’s just gut-shotting her, like one after another,” said Moldof.

However, investigators said the video only shows the end of the story.

Detectives said, due to early release from school, there were large groups of teens at the Coral Square mall on Thursday. The situation began after officers received a call about unruly teens who had been harassing and cursing other shoppers.

“In one case, they actually were reported to have knocked over a small child, a 5-year-old child,” said Coral Springs Police Deputy Chief Brad McKeone.

Police said the 14-year-old was seen pushing another teen. She and the other teens were issued a trespass warning and told not to return.

Investigators said most of the teens left, but some stayed, including the girl seen on the video.

After a teenage boy was arrested, police said, the girl in the video began cursing and trying to incite the other teens.

A statement issued by Coral Springs Police reads, “Officers attempted to take her into custody, at which time she began to fight and resist arrest. Due to her stature and aggressive behavior, officers took her to the ground attempting to get her to release her fists. As seen in the video, she resisted arrest, and in order to have her comply, she was struck in the side to release her clenched fists.”

“What you see on video is the officer delivering some strikes, distraction strikes to an area where she has her hands concealed underneath her,” said McKeone. “The officers don’t know what she may have in her possession. That’s a concern.”

The teen was then taken into custody. Shortly after, police said, she kicked a female officer in the stomach.

McKeone said the actions of the officer in the video were not excessive.

“The officers didn’t go there to take anybody into custody,” he said. “They went there for juvenile disturbance. They went there to restore some peace and order to the mall.”

But Moldof said the teen’s behavior does not justify the officer’s actions.

“To say that the police officer was justified to punch her continuously while he has his knees on her back and her hands around her belly, the video speaks for itself,” she said. “That’s the truth right there.”

Dennis said the video was difficult for her to watch.

“I really couldn’t keep watching it. It was just too much, because it just makes you angry,” she said. “I mean, I was heartbroken.”

The incident has caused the concerned mother to become disillusioned with local police.

“I can’t trust them anymore. Like I don’t feel safe in the area,” she said.

The teen is facing three separate charges. She was taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center in Fort Lauderdale.

Her family has hired two attorneys to deal with the criminal and civil cases.

Police would like to speak with more witnesses and watch any other cellphone video of the incident that may have been recorded. If you think you can help investigators in this case, call Coral Springs Police at 954-344-1800.

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