A video showing an Atwater school employee lying on top of a Merced County woman and shoving her head towards the ground got a lot of attention online Wednesday.
The video depicts school liaison Aaron Townsel in a parking lot at Atwater Valley Community School in a scuffle with Jennifer Love, a 37-year-old Los Banos woman, according to Police Chief Samuel Joseph.
The video shows only the tail end of a confrontation on Oct. 19 at the school over a stolen cell phone, according to one of the woman’s daughters, 22-year-old Desiree Love.
Love’s family says the school employee hurt Love, overstepped his authority, provoked the violence and used too much force. But authorities say that’s not true, saying school employees were protecting students from a group of angry adults who wandered onto campus to resume a fist fight over the cell phone with teenage students.
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Family members say they went to the school to retrieve the phone that had been stolen from them a few days earlier during a fight in Modesto. Police confirmed the phone was taken by two Atwater Valley students.
School staff allowed the family on campus but they were unable find the phone, according to the daughter. Teacher Gerald Ray told officers that one of the women hit him in the face and at least two of the girls intended to fight with students on campus, according to Joseph. Love acknowledged some family members cussed at school employees but said nobody in her family threw any punches.
She said the men in the video threw both of her twin sisters, who are former Valley students, to the ground. Their mother went to help them up before she was taken down, as seen in the video.
“They had her on the floor, choking her,” she said. “There’s no possible way she could hit back.”
Love said her sister, Jennae, suffered back injuries, and the others were pinned to the ground with pressure on their throats that choked off air.
Jennifer Love and one of the sisters, Jasmine, were arrested on suspicion of fighting in a public place, according to jail records. The daughter has since been released from custody.
The mother on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to a felony assault charge, according to records. She’s due back in court on Friday.
Jennifer Love remains in Merced County Jail in lieu of $50,000, also held on suspicion of assault and battery, according to records.
Joseph said the investigation is ongoing so he could not comment on whether the employees used appropriate force, but said school security is allowed to use reasonable force. The campus liaisons work with an Atwater police officer, but the officer was not on campus the day of the incident.
Townsel told police he had “no other choice than to hold her down,” according to the police report. He only let her up after she said she would leave.
Nathan Quevedo, spokesman for the Merced County Office of Education, said the district reviewed the surveillance video and stands behind Townsel, who remains at work.
“If someone is trying to enter the campus in a harmful way like that, our campus liaisons are going to take that very seriously,” Quevedo said.
Townsel has worked as a liaison since 2003, according to the district.
The family shared the video online in an attempt to show the school employees used too much force, Desiree Love said. But, instead the family was further humiliated, mocked and body-shamed after sharing the video with a local Facebook blog. The blog page apparently removed the video after several hours.
The daughter removed the video from the internet saying she couldn’t “handle the negativity.”