Video shows deputy break up fight at Palatka school, mother says too much force used

PALATKA, Fla. — Cellphone video shows a teen slammed to the ground outside Palatka High School by a sheriff’s deputy attempting to break up a brawl.

The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office said the fight involved a large number of students last Friday. The mother of the sophomore at the center of the fight said the deputy used too much force.


“At the end of the day, these are kids — not adults. They are not criminals,” Keiwanna Belton said. “It’s sad because he could’ve used another force to take my son down. But just slamming him on the concrete? That’s uncalled for.”

The sheriff’s office stands by the deputy’s decision. Maj. Steve Rose, the director law enforcement for PCSO, said the deputy already separated the student from the crowd once, but he ran back around to continue throwing punches.

“We as law enforcement are trying to protect those innocent people who are in the unfortunate situation. Unfortunately, it ended in this individual being taken to the ground,” Maj. Rose said.

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Putnam County Schools said “The district is investigating this incident and the PCSD Student Code of Conduct will be followed for all students involved.”

Fights like this one are becoming more common around school grounds as the sheriff’s office explained social media fuels a popularity contest online.

“Social media attention in that people want to be the next big star. TikTok, Instagram, whatever the case may be. And people want to get name and face out there,” Maj. Rose said.

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Action News Jax pulled state data and found aggressive behavior amongst students has increased over the past five years in Putnam. An Action News Jax Investigation revealed it’s a trend shared by all local school districts (INVESTIGATES: Aggressive behavior in local schools skyrockets ‘into a pretty dangerous situation’ – Action News Jax).

The state tracks serious breaches of the code of conduct in a system called the School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting, or SESIR. The categories include anything from disruptions on campus all the way to homicide.

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Here’s the breakdown of total reports made in Putnam by year:

2017: 177

2018: 203

2019: 252

2020: 292

2021: 293

293 reports made is a 14-year high in the county.

A statement from Palatka High School Principal JT Stout said, “(We) have worked diligently over the past few years to improve student safety by implementing the following: mediation for students for conflict resolution, ongoing communication with Putnam County Sheriff’s Office and City of Palatka Police Department regarding any issues in the community that could impact students (and) staff focus to increase daily conversations with all students to build relationships and trust for improved communication.”