Farmington, NM — A veteran Farmington police officer was allowed to quietly resign in a move to escape accountability after horrifying video footage showed him attacking an 11-year-old girl with special needs.
The incident unfolded on August 27, 2019 but the officer's lapel camera video wasn't released until later. It is nothing short of disturbing as it shows the officer, who is much bigger than the girl, slamming her down on the concrete while abusing her.
“That’s not our standards. That’s not who we are,” said Farmington Police Chief Steven Hebbe in response to his officer in the video.
The incident involved Officer Zachary Christensen of the Farmington police department and a sixth grade girl in special education. According to school officials, the girl had misbehaved in class and was waiting for her mother to come pick her up from school. As she waited in the lobby of the school, the officer wrongly accused her of assault and then attacked her.
As KOB reports, the day of the incident, school administrators can be seen on the lapel video following the girl around campus as she waits for her mom to pick her up from school.
“This morning, she went straight to the cafeteria. She took more milks that she was supposed to. She threw a milk on the ground,” said Officer Christensen in the lapel camera footage obtained by the KOB 4 Investigates team.
After savagely attacking the small girl, Officer Christensen attempted to claim in his report that "the child assaulted two school employees that morning." He claimed that one assault occurred when the girl walked past the assistant principal and brushes past him and the second occurred when the girl attempted to open the door and walked past the principal.
However, none of these charges against the girl would stick as the officer lacked any evidence of them.
Despite the girl not posing any threat to anyone, the officer attacked her anyway. As the video shows, he grabs the 11-year-old girl with special needs by the backpack and throws her to the ground. He then jumps on top of her, pinning her down for over six minutes as she screams in horror.
The entire time, the officer is yelling "stop resisting," as if this has any effect on a special needs child being attacked by a man twice her size.
The situation became so unnerving that a school official was forced to step in and tell the officer to let the girl stand up.
“Officer Christensen – she is not a threat to yourself or others at this moment,” said the school employee.
"No, she is!" Christensen replied, claiming the girl, half his size, is a threat to an armed man in a bullet proof vest.
Laughably, the cop would go on to write in his report that the 11-year-old girl "was very strong, stronger than I was.”
After the altercation lasted several more minutes, the school employee then demanded that the officer stop his attack, even using the term "excessive force."
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“We’re not going to use excessive force,” the school employee said.
Naturally, the officer replied that "It's not excessive!"
But as the video shows, it was definitely excessive. Never once did the girl attempt to fight back. She was trying to comply, but the officer's weight on her body would not let her move in the position he was demanding. She even tried to explain this to him but to no avail.
After the incident, police were unable to find anything on which to charge the girl, so she was allowed to return to school as the officer was allowed to resign to escape accountability.
Now, the girl and her mother have retained an attorney to file a lawsuit against the city of Farmington and the school.
“She’s an 11-year-old girl and it’s a shock to the system to see that this is a thing that can occur at a school by a certified peace officer,” attorney Mark Curnutt said.
Curnutt then pointed out the fact that the officer attempted to accuse the girl of committing multiple felonies, none of which actually took place.
“When you have a situation where there's a report that says a felony is committed, another felony is committed, another felony is committed -- and then you review the factual documentation you have of that through the video and it doesn't add up, there must be a level of accountability,” Curnutt said.
KOB reported that Farmington Municipal Schools spokesperson Renee Lucero said the school district “extends its apologies to the student and family involved in this unfortunate incident.”
“FMS administration is reviewing this incident with the intent of putting into place procedures and practices to prevent another instance like this,” said Lucero in a prepared statement. “The safety of all students entrusted to our care is among our highest priorities.”
According to the department, the officer was placed on administrative leave the very next day after this incident.
“There’s no doubt about it. As a chief you know darn well that this is a failure for us and you know it starts with the chief and you try and open the doors and talk about it,” said Chief Hebbe, adding later: “We did talk to the family as this rolled along and (sic) walked them through the family.”
“You’re trying to figure out where we could have done a better job and what things I need to do as far as training and policies to do a better job in the future,” Chief Hebbe said.
Hebbe said as the department prepared to hand down discipline to the officer, Christensen promptly quit on October 1, avoiding any potential stains on his record. He will now become a gypsy cop and likely be hired in the next town over where he could strike again.
According to the San Juan County District Attorney’s Office, they are now reviewing the case to see if any criminal charges are possible. Below is this most disturbing video.