Spokane Public Schools pays $275k to family of Black teen pinned down by resource officer

click to enlarge Spokane Public Schools pays $275k to family of Black teen pinned down by resource officer
Young Kwak photo
Ferris High School

In January 2019, Ferris High School resource officer Shawn Audie pinned a Black student by his neck, causing the student to reportedly say "I can't breathe."

It sparked outrage among other students and community members, even before the Inlander uncovered how Audie had been accused repeatedly of using excessive force in his previous job as a Spokane County sheriff's deputy, including one incident in which a man lost consciousness and died when Audie applied a neck restraint. Spokane Public Schools was unaware of the previous allegations before hiring Audie.

Now, records recently obtained by the Inlander show that Spokane Public Schools in November gave the Ferris student's family $275,000 to settle a case accusing Audie of excessive force and accusing the school district of negligent hiring practices.

Krista Elliott, the attorney for the family, says the family is happy with the settlement. She shared a statement from the family in which they say Audie never should have been able to work with children.

"Spokane Public Schools did not exercise due diligence when they hired Shawn Audie," the statement says. "Spokane Public Schools knew, or should have known of Shawn Audie's incompetence in dealing with conflict and working with the special population of children."

The district did not admit liability as part of the settlement. Under its terms, the family cannot discuss the facts of the case or the terms of the settlement.

"SPS is committed to continuing to make improvements that will lead to fulfilling our mission statement of Excellence for Everyone with support from our employees, families, and community," the district says in a statement. "Nondisclosure agreements are a standard aspect during the resolution of many legal issues to protect the privacy of all parties involved. The facts of this situation were broadly shared and publicized when this incident occurred in 2019."

The incident in January 2019 caused significant fallout at Spokane Public Schools. Audie resigned weeks afterward, with the district paying him more than $10,000 on his way out. The community reaction also increased pressure on the district to take resource officers out of schools. Last year, the school board passed a racial equity resolution that vows to eliminate the ability of any school employee to arrest students.

Also last year, parents started a petition to force school board member Kevin Morrison to resign. Morrison was previously director of safety and security for Spokane Public Schools in early 2019 and, as the Inlander revealed, wrote an email to Audie then expressing sympathy for his actions. Morrison resigned weeks after the petition began circulating, citing "personal matters," the Spokesman-Review reported.

The family's claim against the district asserted that Audie "assaulted" the Black student at Ferris "without cause" following a disagreement between the teen and another student about a pair of tennis shoes.

Audie pinned the student, a freshman at the time, down with his shin. It caused the student — who has asthma — to have difficulty breathing. The student's brother, a junior in 2019, heard about what was happening and came to pull Audie off but was restrained by a janitor, records show.

Both brothers were charged with felony assault. Those charges have since been dropped. The younger brother is attending a school outside Washington and the older brother has since graduated.

The claim — received by Spokane Public Schools in February 2020 — says the younger student who was pinned down experienced trauma causing him to seek counseling. The claim also says Audie likely violated district policy that requires officers to use intervention strategies to de-escalate situations.

"Officer Audie's aggressive physical response to a verbal disagreement was not objectively reasonable when considering the physical nature of his actions, statements from other students and staff, as well as surveillance video," the claim says.

The family also claimed the district could have known about Audie's history as a sheriff's deputy through a "simple Google search," records show.

"When working with children, the burden is higher," the claim says. "A more thorough background check should be done to determine the potential employees' risk of harm to the population with whom he would work."

The family, through Elliott, says they are glad the school district has since "made attempts to remedy the damage that was done to us, Ferris High School and the Spokane Community."

"They have made great strides with racial equity policies, their changes to hiring practices and the changes made to the school resource officers program," the family says in the statement. "We appreciate all of the support that we have received from the community and look forward to this never happening to another Spokane Public Schools family, again." 

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About The Author

Wilson Criscione

Wilson Criscione is the Inlander’s news editor. Aside from writing and editing investigative news stories, he enjoys hiking, watching basketball and spending time with his wife and cat.