Seattle Security Guard Fired for Restraining 2nd Grader As She Said ‘I Can’t Breathe’

An investigation determined the guard restrained the girl when she was not an imminent threat and as she was already lying on the floor.

Seattle Security Guard Fired for Restraining 2nd Grader As She Said ‘I Can’t Breathe’

SEATTLE, Wash. — Seattle Public Schools fired a security guard after an investigation determined he improperly restrained a second grader and lied to investigators back in March.

District investigators found David Raybern, a tactical specialist security guard, physically restrained the 7-year-old girl twice — once when she was not an imminent threat and a second time as she was already lying on the floor, which is against protocol, reports KUOW.

Stevens Elementary School Interim Principal John Hughes and Angel Graves, the school’s student and family advocate, both reported hearing the student scream that she could not breathe as Raybern restrained her — something he denied hearing her say.

Graves said Raybern used his knee to first pin the girl to the wall and then to the floor. Hughes said Raybern used his thigh and then his shin on her back. A third party, Erin Romanuk, who oversees discipline for the district, told investigators that officers are trained to never use their legs on students “due to the risk of death.”

Raybern said the girl tried to stab him with a mechanical pencil and that he never climbed on top of her when she was on the floor.

District human resources chief Clover Codd wrote in Raybern’s termination letter that he lied about how the situation unfolded and said he “intentionally provided false information” during the investigation.

“Such an improper use of force by a Tactical Specialist against a second-grade student shows poor judgment, is dangerous and traumatic to the student, undermines trust and a positive school environment, and simply cannot be tolerated,” Codd continued.

Incident Raises Concerns Regarding Racial Injustice

The incident received additional attention due to the fact that Raybern is White and the girl is Black.

“This, unfortunately, is startlingly familiar,” said Kendrick Washington, the youth policy counsel for the ACLU of Washington. “A police officer, or a security guard, does something to harm a young person of color. And then in defense of their behavior, they try to create a scenario in which the person of color was seen as some form of an imminent threat.”

According to the girl’s mother, Cinetra, the confrontation ended when another employee yelled at Raybern to get off her daughter.

“It made me think of all the [police brutality] situations that have happened just out in the world. And that could have happened to my daughter, she could have died,” she said.

Cinetra also questioned why Hughes turned to campus security instead of Graves when her daughter started acting out. The incident emphasizes the importance of turning to social-emotional specialists to try and de-escalate situations involving students, said Washington.

“I think this is just a really important reminder that police and security officers aren’t what’s going to make schools safer,” Washington continued. “They’re not what young children need.”

The March incident isn’t the first to raise concerns regarding police presence in Seattle schools. Since 2012, the district has been under investigation by the Department of Education regarding whether Black students are disciplined more often and more severely than White students for the same infractions.

Back in June, the Seattle School Board voted to indefinitely suspend its contract with police after several online petitions called on the district to remove five police officers stationed in its school buildings.

The district will keep its 46 security guards stationed at middle and high schools and its six division tactical specialist security guards. The latter, which Raybern was, are dispatched from district headquarters to deal with reported threats at elementary schools and other schools without full-time guards.

About the Author


Amy is Campus Safety’s Senior Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy’s mother, brother, sister-in-law and a handful of cousins are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.

In her free time, Amy enjoys exploring the outdoors with her husband, her son and her dog.

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