WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Local organizations are now standing by the Winston-Salem police officer at the center of a controversy regarding his detainment of a 14-year-old student at Hanes Middle School. This, after some called for the officer’s job amidst allegations of excessive force by community members.
“I think it was a premature call to call for Officer McCormick’s job,” said Bishop Todd Fulton, of the Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, referring to Winston-Salem police officer Tyler McCormick.
On Oct. 5, McCormick attempted to talk to a 14-year-old student at the school. On Friday, a member of McCormick’s counsel, Christopher Beechler, detailed that McCormick had information that the student intended to harm one of her peers.
“The student had skipped her last class, she was laying in wait outside of another classroom,” Beechler said. “Waiting to attack and fight another student.”
Beechler added that the would-be victim went to the school’s office to seek protection.
“This would-be victim was frightened, hysterical, crying, did not want to be beaten up,” he said.
Body camera video released by the police department on Friday begins as officer McCormick attempts to stop the 14-year-old to speak with her. The teen then exits the school, and despite at least 17 directions to stop, she continues to attempt to walk away from McCormick.
“You hear the officer say, ‘Come here,’ and she replies, ‘I’m gone,’” said Sgt. Paul Perry, of Elizabeth City police.
Perry is a certified use of force instructor brought on as an independent investigator to evaluate the incident.
“It is a criminal act of resisting arrest, delaying he investigation and/or obstructing an officer,” Perry said, of the teen’s actions.
The video shows the teen continuing to resist McCormick until the officer used what Perry referred to as “very light force” to bring the teen to the ground.
A witness began to record the incident and then posted the video to Facebook, sparking outrage.
McCormick can be heard saying, “That’s fine, I’m videoing too.”
McCormick then takes the student to his office, where she immediately attempts to remove the handcuffs. McCormick then calls a family member to pick her up, before loosening the cuffs.
The student then begins to detail a violent past. She discusses gang activity within her family and details her home being shot at.
“I’ve been stabbed before,” the teen said. “I’ve been shot at.”
“She describes having fought adult women. She describes the injuries – serious injuries – she’s sustained from fighting,” Beechler added.
The teen then discusses several students in both middle and high schools involved in criminal activity.
About 58 minutes after the video began, a family member arrived at the school to retrieve the teen.
“I would like to hear what she did,” the family member said.
“They had approached her in the hallway trying to fight her,” McCormick detailed, regarding the would-be victim.
“Is it necessarily to slam her on the ground because she resisted,” the family member asked.
“I didn’t slam her. I put her, like holding her arms, and put her down like this. I didn’t slam her,” McCormick detailed. “If I had slammed her she would have been injured. I wouldn’t want them to get injured.”
In the days and weeks following the incident, the social media video created a flurry of rumors and accusations, including that McCormick had put his knee into the 14-year-old’s back and shoved her face into the pavement. The body camera video proved that was false.
“[To] have your job called for, without any of the facts, is just irresponsible,” Beechler said.
The Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity had previously called for McCormick to be fired. After seeing the video, Bishop Todd Fulton, speaking on behalf of himself and not the Ministers Conference as a whole, offered a different opinion.
The Ministers Conference has called for the release of body camera video several times in recent years, including when a man named Travis Page died while being taken into police custody in 2015 and when a man named Edward McCrae was shot and killed by a Winston-Salem police officer in May of 2018.
Officers were cleared of any wrongdoing in both cases. When asked if the latest example of an officer being found in the right would change how the Ministers Conference approaches such cases in the future, Fulton responded:
“I would not be standing here in agreement with the Winston-Salem Police Department if this officer overused his force, overstepped his boundaries. I trust the leadership of this police department, Chief Catrina Thompson, she’s been straightforward with us. She’s held us accountable. And she’s said to Reverend Carlisle and I both, 'I want you to hold us accountable. I want you to ask questions.'”
Fulton was referring to Rev. Alvin Carlisle, president of the NAACP Winston-Salem branch, which had not yet commented on the Hanes case, citing a lack of facts.
“We felt like Officer McCormick acted for the safety of the students at Hanes,” Carlisle said, when asked what he thought of the video.
After reviews from McCormick’s supervisors, the Winston-Salem Police Professional Standards Division, the Winston-Salem Police Use of Force Review Board and Perry – the independent investigator – McCormick was cleared of any use of force violations and the case was closed. McCormick is on unrestricted, full duty. But, he is not currently a school resource officer.
“This has changed his career path,” Beechler said, of McCormick.
Carlisle said the NAACP would support McCormick if he wished to return to being an SRO.
“He still wears a Hanes school bracelet on his hand because he still feels connected to those kids and that environment although he is not there anymore,” Beechler detailed, after speaking with McCormick Thursday night.
Beechler added that the 14-year-old had previous issues at the school, which administrators had attempted to address with her this semester.
“This was not the first school in which she had these issues,” he said.
The investigation into the 14-year-old remains active. Assistant Police Chief Natoshia Miles referred to it as “an ongoing criminal proceeding.”
Amidst the negative nature of the public perception of the incident, there is some positive. Attorney David Freedman, another member of McCormick’s counsel, says he, Beechler, District Attorney Jim O’Neill, as well as members of the Ministers Conference and NAACP met for what Freedman called an “unprecedented” event.
There, all sides spoke to one another, with the objective of getting information back from the Ministers Conference about issues causing them concern.
“The more we understand, and the more we have exchange of information, and don’t point fingers at each other, the better for all of us,” Freedman said. “I believe we can utilize a situation like this to expand all of our knowledge and to make Winston-Salem a much better place to live.”
It is his hope that future meetings of this kind could better strengthen relationships and communication between law enforcement agencies, the district attorney, the Ministers Conference and other community service groups.
Fulton says the Ministers Conference, as a voting body, will meet to discuss a possible retraction of their call for McCormick’s firing Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.