Breaking News: Student Pinned Down by Police Officers, Community Confused and Angry

5 mins read

This is a developing story. Click here for an update from the Atherton Police Department. One line in this article has been added (Monday, 5/1) to acknowledge that one interviewee’s account differs from comments provided by the police and to clarify that this interviewee was not in the room when the student went to retrieve the water gun from the office.

On Friday, police officers handcuffed two students and pinned one of them to the ground right outside of M-A. Videos of the incident have been circulating on social media, accruing thousands of views, with comments expressing both anger and confusion over what happened. The incident occurred just before 3:30 p.m. at the bus stop by Oak Grove and Middlefield. 

A sibling of the student who was pinned to the ground said, “The school called the police on him, without calling my mother first. He is a minor; he didn’t physically harm anyone or deserve this. He is currently depressed, scared, and shaky. He [had] never experienced police brutality or interactions with the police. As a Black male, he thought he was going to die.” The sibling said the student was physically injured in the interaction. 

Sophomore Funaki Vunipola, who also witnessed the incident, said, “We were all waiting for the bus when the cops came, and we were wondering what was going on. They pointed at [the student] and said, ‘You have to come with me.’ [He] was of course confused and mad, so he was saying, ‘I’m not going anywhere.’ The cops told the rest of us to step back, while [the student] and two others stayed with the cops.”

“They tried to put [him] in cuffs, but he felt like he wasn’t in the wrong and told the police not to touch him. Then, next thing you know, they have him on the ground, and more and more police officers start showing up,” said junior witness Mahki Tippins.

A second student was also temporarily handcuffed. Vunipola said, “They tried arresting [the first student], but before they could, one of the boys [the second student] with him said, ‘I’m not gon’ let that happen.’”

Tippins said, “I started recording for our safety. Then, [the second student] was detained because he didn’t move when he was told.” 

Vunipola continued, “We all started recording and the cops tried arresting [the first student], but he started to refuse, back up, and yell, ‘You can’t take me, I’m a minor.’ That’s when they pinned [him] onto the ground, and used unnecessary force on him. They were kneeling on his stomach, and didn’t get off after [he] repeatedly yelled in pain. They then bent his arms back to make him get up, and dragged him to the police car. [He] fought back a bit, refusing to get in the car.”

Sophomore Linda Gabele said, “[He] was confused, and he, I guess, refused a little and then [the police] pushed him to the floor and two police officers held him down. [He] started saying that it hurts, but they kept on going.”

In one of the videos, the student says, “Get off me. My hernia, my stomach.” A student in the background can be heard saying, “Hold on, he had surgery.” Interviewees have also said the student recently had surgery and that this contributed to his pain while pinned down.

In one video, the student asks officers to “Call my mom,” and proceeds to yell out his mom’s phone number. 

Instagram account @thahoodnews posted a clip of the incident at approximately 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, which, as of 5 p.m. on Sunday, has more than 30,000 views. 

In the comment section and reposts of this video, people have speculated on what caused the incident and why the police were called.

The M-A Chronicle has reached out to M-A Administration and the Atherton Police Department. Both have yet to comment. In most cases, state law prohibits releasing minors’ disciplinary information. 

In an email to students on Sunday afternoon, principal Karl Losekoot said, “What I can share is that our site administrators did call for police department support due to an interaction with a student that escalated to the level that our site team felt concerned for their safety, as there was physical contact made against one of our site leaders along with several verbal threats made towards that staff member.”

Numerous students had suggested that the incident began with a water gun that the administration had confiscated earlier in the week, which the student wanted to get back from the office on Friday. Vunipola said the student had the water gun at school this week for Senior Assassin, a competition which involves seniors trying to spray assigned peers with water. Senior Ishy Mishra, who helped organize the game, said that 108 students are participating.

Losekoot said in the email, “The rumor that our site administrators contacted the police department because a student was in possession of a water gun is false. On Friday, countless water guns were confiscated from students, and not one of those school site interactions resulted in a call for police assistance from our site administrators.”

While some comments on social media have suggested that the police may have been reacting to a toy that looked like a real weapon that the student had with him at the time, multiple interviewees have said that the student did not have the water gun with him during the incident, and that the water gun looked like a pool noodle, not a real weapon. 

One anonymous student said, “I told [the student] that I got his water blaster tube taken from me, so he went to the office [on Friday] to get it back because he wanted to use it. When he went, the office was going to give it to him, but then [an administrator] came out and said he wasn’t going to get it back. They started arguing. Then [the student] was gonna grab it, but [the administrator] blocked him. They raised voices, mostly [the student], but he didn’t want to continue, so [he] walked out and left, [coming] back to us at the bus stop.” This differs from the account provided in police comments (received on Monday, 5/1); this interviewee was not inside the office with the student when he went to retrieve the water gun.

The anonymous student continued that, after the incident, “Once [the administrator] came out to see what happened, the cops said, ‘You called for the disturbance in the office.’ [The administrator] said yes and that he would like to file a report. [The student] was already in the police car.”

Losekoot said in the email, “As educators, trained in the vocation of supporting students, the idea of calling for police department support is something that we absolutely do not take lightly. It is always the final option when all attempts to de-escalate a situation are not producing the desired result, and there is a clear threat to the safety of our students and/or staff.”

Students have reacted on social media with anger and are calling for accountability and transparency. One group of students has planned a protest during lunch on Monday in B-5. Freshman and co-organizer Nora Acosta Aparico said, “We wanted to start this protest because we want to build a safe and trusting community at M-A, and we want more people of color’s voices to be heard.”

See videos of the incident here:

Video credit to Mahki Tippins, Linda Gabele, Louise Gabele, one anonymous student, and the sibling of the student pinned down.

Katie Doran was a senior and an Editor-in-Chief of the M-A Chronicle. In journalism, Katie enjoyed being able to direct their own research on issues and events related to the M-A community. She was also involved in M-A's debate team and was interested in law, politics, and social issues. In their free time, Katie liked to read, bake, paint, and hang out with friends.

Celine Chien is a junior in her second year at the Chronicle. She is the current Editor-in-Chief, a Design Lead for the Mark, a copy editor, and reports on detracking and community news. Celine is on M-A's debate team, Leadership-ASB, and loves to cook and spend time with her family.

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