Second guard investigated after wheelchair assault

A second security guard at Oakland High School is under investigation for her role in an incident two weeks ago in which a student with cerebral palsy was allegedly handcuffed, punched and dumped out of his wheelchair, school officials said today.

Oakland Unified School District officials said last Friday that 23-year-old security guard Marchell Mitchell was fired and charged with felony inflicting corporal incident to a child for the incident at the high school at about 9 a.m. on May 19 involving freshman Francisco Martinez.

School district spokesman Troy Flint said the incident occurred when Martinez and several other students were lingering in a hallway and Martinez either didn’t respond to an order to go to class or was slow to respond.

The incident was recorded by a school surveillance video. Flint said today that on Tuesday afternoon school officials discovered a second video that captures the involvement of another security guard, Shalandra Cotton.

According to Flint, the first video shows Mitchell taking the handles of Martinez’s wheelchair and pushing him toward his class but Martinez objected because people who use wheelchairs consider them an extension of their bodies and often feel violated when someone else pushes them.

Martinez tried to slap Mitchell’s hand away so the security guard handcuffed him and continued to push his wheelchair, at which point Martinez spat in his face, Flint said.

Mitchell then struck Martinez several times before dumping him from his wheelchair onto the floor, but then another security officer intervened to restrain Mitchell, Flint said.

Mitchell was arrested by an Oakland schools police officer and was fired the same day as the incident, Flint said.

According to Flint, the second video shows Mitchell and Cotton exchanging words and scuffling with Martinez in front of an elevator shortly before the incident in which Mitchell allegedly dumped Martinez out of his wheelchair.

The video appears to show Cotton putting her hands on Martinez at one point, Flint said. Cotton’s actions don’t appear to be as egregious or as “cut and dried” as Mitchell’s conduct but they were “completely unacceptable” so the district has put her on paid leave while it investigates the matter, Flint said.

He said that among the things school officials are looking at is whether Cotton was negligent in not acting more quickly to try to shield Martinez from Mitchell’s alleged attack on him.

Flint said Cotton’s actions “were inappropriate but not obviously criminal” so her fate depends on the evidence that’s uncovered in the school district’s investigation.

He said the district could reinstate her to her job, it could fire her without charges or it could both fire her and seek criminal charges if it believes she broke the law.

In the wake of the two videos of the incident, Flint said the school district is reviewing how it recruits and trains security guards:

“We’re deeply apologetic about what happened.”

Martinez was taken to a hospital to be treated for injuries he suffered during the incident but he has recovered and returned to school, according to Flint.

Mitchell pleaded not guilty to the charges against him on May 22 and is scheduled to return to Alameda County Superior Court on June 16 for a pretrial hearing and on July 11 for a preliminary hearing.