The mothers of a pair of teens in Pennsylvania have filed a police brutality lawsuit, alleging their sons suffered concussions after being arrested at a junior varsity basketball game back in January.
Mekhi Burkett, 16, and Jawuane Johnson, 17, both Black, were charged with felonies when a basketball game at Whitehall High School turned into a gym-clearing melee.
The lawsuit, which was obtained by LehighValleyLive.com, notes that police were upset with “attitude” they were shown by 14-year-old Black teen who was consoling his girlfriend in an off-limits hallway.
Defense attorney John Waldron said the 14-year-old was emotional because his sister had died in a DUI-related crash two weeks earlier. The 14-year-old’s grief was the reason for his outburst with police, according to Waldron.
When the 14-year-old returned to the bleachers, police engaged him again there and wanted to search him, according to the suit. Burkett and Johnson objected to the 14-year-old being search, and that’s when the officer began “wildly flailing at the children.”
One officer shoved Burkett, who fell down multiple rows of bleachers, and Johnson’s head was later slammed into a wall in the hallway outside the gym. Burkett was later tackled, and officers allegedly slammed his head into the gym floor.
The lawsuit also alleges that officers deployed a police dog that began “wildly attacking the children.”
Whitehall Township; several police officers; the school district, Hackett and the Whitehall-Coplay athletic director are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
“While our district is not able to comment on pending litigation, we want our students, staff, parents, guardians, and others to know that we are committed to treating each student with fairness, respect, and dignity,” wrote Samuel Haaz, the attorney representing the school district and its employees. “We know that this is an important topic for our community and are empathetic to our community’s many concerns.”
Johnson and Burkett, along with two other Black teens, appeared in court back in February where the charges against them were reduced to misdemeanors. Each have since been sentenced to probation.
At the hearing in February, some of the disagreements between the kids and the police seemed to have been resolved. Waldron said the 14-year-old boy could have treated police with more respect but police could have been more patient with the teens.
“You kind of got the sense if this were replayed, all the participants could have handled it differently,” Waldron said.