Move comes as student is in critical condition following Taser incident
December 5, 2013
The ACLU is leading a coalition of civil rights groups in attempting to get pepper spray and Taser devices banned from use in Texas schools, a reaction to a tragic incident that took place last month in which a high school student hit his head following a Taser incident suffering a traumatic brain injury.
Joined by six other civil rights groups, the ACLU argued to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement on
Wednesday that officers confronting students should resort to de-escalation and crisis intervention techniques, much like hostage negotiators reason with or talk people out of dangerous situations.
“Tragic incidents like this one demonstrate why the state should not grant police free rein to wield weapons in schools for the apparent purpose of maintaining order,” said ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke, according to the Houston Chronicle. “Schools should be safe havens from this type of police use of force. I hope the commission will heed our call to end use of Tasers and pepper spray.”
In November, Cedar Creek High School student Noe Nino de Rivera, 17, was alleged to have interfered with two sheriff’s deputies working as resource officers, who were attempting to break up a fight between two female students.
The student fell and hit the front of his head when one of the officers, Randy McMillan, used a Taser to subdue him. He sustained a traumatic brain injury and remains in a coma at the St. David’s Medical Center in Austin where doctors believe he will recover, according to the family’s lawyer, Adam Loewy. However, Loewy says, “he will have a very serious, permanent brain injury, and we won’t know the extent of that until he wakes up.”
C.A. “Chuck” Brawner, the police chief at the Spring Branch Independent School District, acknowledged that deaths have been attributed to Taser and pepper spray use , but says eliminating the two non-lethal weapons may put officers, students and faculty at risk.
“When you take away the pepper spray and you take away the Taser, what do you have left?” Brawner reportedly asked. “What if there are several people and you have one officer and they can’t control them and they could get away and cause other problems, how do you stop them? When you start taking away other options other than a firearm or a nightstick, what else are you going to use?”
In 2012, human rights group Amnesty International estimated 500 taser related deaths had occurred since 2001. Similarly, the ACLU reported in 1995 that “one person dies after being pepper sprayed for about every 600 times the spray is used by police.”
While eliminating Tasers and pepper spray may seem like a good idea at first glance, de Rivera’s attorney believes it may make more sense to invest in better overall training for police.
“There needs to be a balance struck between preserving the safety of students and teachers, and making sure students do not get hurt by law enforcement officers in the school,” Loewy said. “The major way to do that is to improve training, not necessarily an outright ban.”