Civil Rights Groups Call on TEA to End Taser and Pepper Spray Use in Schools

Posted on

February 13, 2014

Tom Hargis
ACLU of Texas

Deborah Fowler
Texas Appleseed

AUSTIN – A coalition of civil rights and social justice organizations announced yesterday that it is calling on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to take affirmative steps to end the use of Tasers and pepper spray in schools. This latest move follows an incident last November in which a school police officer tased a Cedar Creek High School student who was not acting aggressively or wielding a weapon, leaving him in a coma for more than 50 days.

Last December the groups asked the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) to take action, but the organization has indicated that it does not have the authority to prohibit Taser and pepper spray use by school-based police on Texas’ students. TCOLE instead offered to work with the groups to develop a model policy and training curriculum for school police officers that school districts may opt to adopt; the commission also agreed to create a certification for school police officers who complete the training.

“This is an important first step but it does not go far enough,” said Texas Appleseed Deputy Director Deborah Fowler. Texas Appleseed, along with six other groups, sent a letter today to TEA Commissioner Michael Williams asking the agency to take decisive action to end of the use of these so-called “lessthan-lethal” weapons in schools.

“Given the dangers associated with Tasers and pepper spray – particularly for children – we believe the state’s leadership must act more definitively to protect our youth,” said Fowler.

In the Cedar Creek High School case, student, Noe Nino de Rivera, 17, was tased by a member of the Bastrop County Sherriff’s department, resulting in traumatic brain injury when he fell and hit his head. Videotape of the incident shows the school resource officer using a Taser on Nino de Rivera in the aftermath of a hallway fight between two girls – even though he was not involved in the fight and in fact helped to break it up before the police arrived.

“Despite incidences of this kind and growing documentation of use of force in schools statewide, no regulations exist limiting the use of these weapons on our students,” said Matt Simpson, policy strategist for ACLU of Texas.

Reports published by Texas Appleseed and the ACLU of Texas document wide variations in use-of-force policies for the 18 public school districts that allowed for review of their policies. Pepper spray was found to be a common component in most policies. At the start of this school year, two Houston-area school districts reportedly became the first in the country to have school police carry “pepper guns,” which are considered twice as powerful as pepper spray.

Concerns about Tasers have also grown, with many experts viewing them as a lethal – rather than “less than lethal” – weapon. Emitting a shock of up to 50,000 volts, Tasers are designed to restrain adults not children. The letter to TEA notes that medical professionals have begun to raise concerns that the misuse of such weapons can cause cardiac arrest and death when used on adults.

“If the ramifications for adults is so severe, how can we justify using these tools on youth? Parents trust that when their kids go to school they are safe,” says Jennifer Carreon, policy researcher for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. “How do tools like pepper spray and tasers foster a safe environment?”

More school police officers across the country, however, are relying on these weapons. Taser International reports that it is has sold Tasers to “well over 4,000” school-based police organizations nationwide.

“The use of such weapons on children is unconscionable,” said Lauren Rose, juvenile justice policy associate for Texans Care for Children. “Tasers are not allowed for use on youth in Texas’ juvenile lockups, and they should not be allowed for use on Texas’ school children.” Co-signees on the letter to TEA include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas, Disability Rights Texas, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Texans Care for Children, Texas Appleseed, and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC). View the letter to TEA.

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