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Records detail fight at Ferris High School that led to resource officer’s resignation

Ferris High School is seen  Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Ferris High School is seen Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

It all started over a tattoo and a pair of sneakers.

Records released this past week by Spokane Public Schools reveal what started the Jan. 24 altercation that prompted a lockdown at Ferris High School, injured three staff members, raised questions about the hiring of a school resource officer and fueled concerns about implicit racial bias.

The records were provided to The Spokesman-Review in response to a public records request. They include handwritten statements by students who witnessed and took part in the altercation, memos and emails by school staff and administrators, and a report written by School Resource Officer Shawn Audie, who resigned about two weeks after the incident. The names of all students were redacted.

The school district recently faced criticism for hiring Audie, who had been accused of using excessive force and making false or misleading statements during his time as a Spokane County sheriff’s deputy. After the Ferris incident, students accused Audie of acting with racial bias; a video showed him pinning an African-American student and pressing his forearm into the student’s neck.

The reports show that students and staff members had starkly different perceptions of the Ferris incident. One teacher wrote that Audie “was doing all he could to get the boy he had on the ground to calm down with very little luck. The boy continued to make every effort to fight the situation and was not calming down.”

A student, meanwhile, wrote: “The officer Mr. Audie was holding a student on the ground and laying on his neck. The student was screaming and crying. (Another student) got involved screaming that it wasn’t right. … All I was trying to do was calm him down but instead the teachers and staff didn’t know what they were doing and caused more violence than peace.”

In his report, Audie wrote that he walked into the “commons” area during lunch and spoke with the principal’s assistant, who expressed concern that two boys were about to assault another. The pair walked away from the area when they saw Audie, then returned and “got into the victim student’s face,” the officer wrote.

Earlier, toward the end of the fourth class period, the principal’s assistant and a football coach had separated the boys after they were heard talking in a locker room “in slightly agitated voices.”

One of the students was wearing a pair of black-and-yellow Air Jordan sneakers, which the other boys wanted. According to the football coach, the student wearing the shoes said: “I gave someone a tattoo yesterday and he paid me with these shoes. They are saying I stole them and they are taking them back.”

The targeted student also said he wouldn’t be able to defend himself if he got jumped because he feared getting in trouble with his probation officer. “I have a PO and if I fight back I will be done,” he told the football coach.

In the commons area, Audie wrote that he watched the principal’s assistant step between two of the boys, but at least one of them was defiant and tried to push past the assistant. Audie said he witnessed the student hit the principal’s assistant with his right forearm, shoving the assistant and causing him to drop his water bottle.

“Having just witnessed the assault” on the principal’s assistant, Audie wrote that he stepped in and grabbed the student’s shoulders from behind. Audie wrote that he shoved the student to one side, letting go of his shoulders, and then turned to face the principal’s assistant. That, Audie wrote, is when the student sucker-punched the officer just above his left eye “with such force it caused me to lose my balance with disorientation.”

Audie wrote that he turned around, blocked a second punch, grabbed the student and took him to the ground by kicking his legs from underneath him. “Once I had him down, (the student) smiled up at me and said, ‘Felt that, didn’t you!’ ” Audie wrote.

The boy continued trying to throw punches from his back, according to Audie, but the officer straddled the student and controlled his arms with his body weight. “I had no assistance at this point and was just forced to hold him so he could not hit me any longer,” Audie wrote.

Chaos ensued.

“I could tell I was surrounded by dozens of students all screaming at me to let (the student) go and at times I could feel being punched and kicked as I was controlling (the student),” Audie wrote. “I became aware … multiple teachers and other administrators were forcing students surrounding me back. Everything was very loud.”

Audie’s report makes no mention of the officer pressing his forearm into the student’s neck. Audie wrote that the boy was exhausted after about five minutes, and the officer began trying to put handcuffs on him. But a second boy forced his way past other staff members, jumped on Audie’s back and began punching both sides of his head, the officer wrote.

A custodian pulled the boy off Audie, but minutes later another boy forced his way past staff members, screaming, cursing and threatening Audie to get off the student who was on the ground.

“I felt fear for my safety and took measures to defend myself as he got within reach,” Audie wrote. “I attempted to strike (the student) in the face. (The student) saw me draw my arm back when he stopped in time. No actual contact was made. He responded by backing up, looking at the crowd and saying, ‘Did you see what he tried to do!’ ”

That boy was later escorted down the hall to an office, where he threw a chair and a potted plant and kicked holes in a wall, according to several reports.

Students were told to stop filming the incident, and several refused to leave the scene. A female teacher was pushed to the floor during the skirmish and later reported she had a concussion. Audie reported he went for a medical evaluation because of swelling on his face. Three teens were arrested on charges of assault, obstruction of justice and malicious mischief.

School staff later conducted a “threat assessment” on one of those teens, with several teachers reporting suspicions of drug use, a troubled home life and a pattern of aggressive, disruptive behavior.

Some of the allegations against Audie – including a June 2013 incident on the South Hill in which a man died after Audie placed him in a chokehold – came from federal lawsuits during his time as a sheriff’s deputy. The school district could have learned about them with a cursory Google search.

Audie was also under internal investigation when he resigned from the sheriff’s office last year, and Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich has said Audie was about to be fired. Investigators questioned Audie’s credibility and determined he had made false or misleading statements when asked if he had kicked a man on the ground in a driveway in Spokane’s Logan Neighborhood.

A school district spokesman has said that Audie underwent a criminal background check and received a “favorable” recommendation from his supervisor at the sheriff’s office.

When the district provided records last week, it redacted large portions of Audie’s personnel file, citing a state law that says job applications, résumés and “other related materials submitted with respect to an applicant” are exempt from public disclosure.

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