Civil Rights Groups Are Calling on Governor Perry to End the Use of Tasers and Pepper Spray in Schools
Last year, the Texas Legislature passed on the chance to ban cops and security guards from using Tasers and pepper spray on students in public school. With the state's largest police group, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, lobbying against it (the bill "prohibits school district peace officers from using non-lethal or compliance weapons," CLEAT lamented), state Senator Royce West's proposal died in committee.
The legislative failure has hardly daunted the measure's two main outside backers, the ACLU of Texas and Texas Appleseed, which have embarked on a new strategy: a letter-writing campaign.
The first letter went to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement in December and urged the agency to write the Taser-and-pepper-spray ban into its official rules. When TCOLE claimed it didn't have the authority, the groups sent a missive to the Texas Education Agency.
On Wednesday, they followed up with a dispatch asking Governor Rick Perry to intervene.
The argument put forward by the ACLU, Texas Appleseed and several other civil-rights groups that co-signed the letters is that Tasers and pepper spray are too dangerous to be used on minors and, while perhaps useful for subduing suspects on the street, do not belong in public schools.
"The risks associated with Taser and pepper spray use on children are well documented," the letter says, citing research linking Taser shocks to heart attacks and a 2009 incident in which students at Dallas' Hillcrest High were hospitalized after pepper spray used to break up a fight spread through the ventilation system. "In addition to health risks, experts condemn heavy-handed use of force on young people because it is counterproductive, traumatic, and undermines the relationship between youth and the police officers with whom they interact."
Dallas ISD Police Chief Craig Miller says his officers don't use Tasers or stun guns but sworn officers are allowed to carry pepper spray. "The OC spray is a part of the force continuum that our department uses with regards to use of force," he writes in an email. That continuum "mirrors the same criteria as the Dallas PD utilizes" when deciding to use force.
Safety concerns have led other agencies dealing with minors to heavily restrict the use of "less than lethal" weapons. The Texas Juvenile Justice Department, for instance, bans Tasers and severely limits the use of pepper spray in county and state juvenile facilities. The Texas Department of Family and Protective services allows neither weapon to be used "for disciplinary or emergency behavioral interventions."
These are the same arguments that failed to sway lawmakers when they considered the measure last spring. What's changed is that opponents now have a horrific case study to point to of the potential consequences of allowing Tasers in public schools.
The case, cited in each of the three letters, took place at Cedar Creek High School in Bastrop last November. Noe Nino de Rivera, 17, was Tased by a school resource officer as he was apparently walking away from a fight, which Texas Appleseed and the ACLU say he wasn't involved in. The Austin American-Statesman has school surveillance video:
Rivera suffered serious brain injury as a result and was kept in a medically induced coma for more than 50 days.
The outcome isn't typically that severe, but the Tasers and pepper spray in schools aren't uncommon. In their letter, the ACLU and Texas Appleseed cite almost two dozen news reports describing their use over the past several years across the state, including in Grand Prairie, Duncanville, and Dallas. The list does not include that time when a cop at a Mesquite middle school maced a baby squirrel.
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