MADISON, Wis. (AP) — An Illinois man has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that an off-duty police officer improperly restrained his 12-year-old daughter during a fight in a Wisconsin middle school last year by placing his knee on her neck similar to how Derek Chauvin fatally restrained George Floyd.
Jerrel Perez, who lives in Zion, Illinois, but who used to live about 10 miles (16 kilometers) north in Kenosha, Wisconsin, filed the lawsuit Monday. He alleges that the officer, Shawn Guetschow, used excessive force and inflicted lasting injuries on his daughter. The filing seeks unspecified damages and attorney fees from Guetschow, the city of Kenosha and its school district.
Sam Hall, an attorney for Guetschow and the school district, promised to mount a vigorous defense. He said in a statement that state prosecutors decided not to bring charges and the U.S. attorney's office in Milwaukee determined that Guetschow didn't commit any civil rights violations. The Kenosha city attorney, Matthew Knight, declined to comment Tuesday other than to say that the city hadn't been served with the lawsuit yet.
Kenosha Police Lt. Joseph Nosalik issued a statement saying the department learned of the lawsuit late Monday afternoon and respects the rights of citizens to file complaints but had no further comment on the matter.
Guetschow was working his off-duty job as a security guard at Lincoln Middle School in Kenosha on March 4 when Perez's daughter got into a fight with another student in the cafeteria.
Surveillance video shows Guetschow rush over and separate the students. He scuffles with Perez's daughter, who appears to throw a punch at him. He falls to the floor and takes her down with him. He then gets on top of her and appears to press his knee into the back of her neck for about 25 seconds while he handcuffs her. He then hauls her to her feet and leads her off-camera.
Perez's daughter is Black. Guetschow is white.
Perez alleges in the lawsuit that his daughter couldn't breathe while Guetschow's knee was on her neck. She sustained a traumatic brain injury and still suffers recurring headaches, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit describes the knee-restraint as an illegal chokehold. Wisconsin passed a law in 2021 prohibiting police from using chokeholds except as a last resort, joining a host of other states that passed similar statutes in the wake of widespread protests over Floyd's death.
The Wisconsin law does not lay out any penalties for officers that employ chokeholds, however, leaving it to prosecutors to decide whether other charges such as assault or reckless endangerment might apply in such situations. Guetschow was not charged in the middle school incident, court records show.
The Kenosha Police Department requires officers to follow its policy and procedures when making off-duty arrests. The lawsuit accuses the city of failing to train its officers to work as off-duty security guards and the school district with failing to train its security guards.
The lawsuit contends that the city also failed to take into account Guetschow's reputation as having a “short temper." The filing alleges that in his final year of employment with the Lake Geneva Police Department, a performance review was marked “unacceptable” and he was described as “emotional, panicked or loses their temper."
Guetschow resigned from his security guard position days after the incident, saying he had suffered mental and emotional strain and that he felt the district didn't support him. The Kenosha Police Department's statement said that an internal investigation determined that Guetschow didn't violate any department policy or procedures and he was returned to active duty status on Jan. 31.
Hall, the attorney for the school district and Guetschow, said Guetschow is still recovering from injuries he suffered trying to break up the fight. He said Guetschow's head struck a table during the scuffle and he suffered a concussion, significant swelling and a bruise to his head, and was treated at a local emergency room. Hall praised Guetschow for regaining control of the situation despite his injuries.