ACLU urges ban on use of tasers, pepper spray in Texas schools

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by Kevin Reece / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on February 13, 2014 at 8:08 PM

HOUSTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union, along with several other organizations, has made a public appeal to the Texas Education Agency to end the use of tasers and pepper spray by police officers in Texas schools.

Law enforcement representatives, including the Texas Municipal Police Association, have responded by suggesting the request is misguided and naive.

In a letter to Commissioner of Education Michael Williams the ACLU asks "the Texas Education Agency...take affirmative steps to end the use of Tasers and pepper spray on students and ensure school police are appropriately working to keep our schools safe."

The letter is co-authored by Disability Rights, Texas, Texans Care for Children, Texas Appleseed, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and National Alliance on Mental Illness, Texas.

"Tasers have been shown to be harmful to adults," said ACLU of Texas executive director Terri Burke. "They've caused heart attacks and death in adults. If it happens to an adult we sure don't want to see tasers being used on our children."

The letter to the TEA cites the recent case from Bastrop County where a sheriff's deputy tased a 17-year-old student in a high school hallway. The deputy said the student was combative and would not comply with his orders. His family says the student was only trying to break up a previous fight between other students. When Noe Nino de Rivera fell backwards from the force of the taser, he hit his head on the floor. He was in a coma for 52 days. His family has filed a civil lawsuit and their attorney suggested the officer "should have just grabbed him" instead of using a Taser.

"So let's use all the other old fashioned tools that have been used for years, good old fashioned police work," said Burke.

"That just sounds ridiculous to me that they'd be doing that," said Houston Police Officers' Union president Ray Hunt.

Responding to news of the ACLU request Hunt said the groups sending the letter to the TEA need to realize that times have changed in public schools in Texas and across the country. In an era of mass school shootings, and even the more recent stabbings and at places like Spring High School and Lone Star College, Hunt says that a modern officer needs modern tools.

"When you say students don't get the misconception of a 5 or 6 year old. Students can be 18 or 19 years old as well," said Hunt. "If you don't have most of those tools at your disposal you're gonna have to go hands-on or use lethal force and I don't think that's the answer. We believe that they're a good tool for police officers and there's no way I'd be a school district police officer without one."

"We need to have a detailed in-depth conversation about this and not a knee jerk reaction," added Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association.

"I think it’s entirely appropriate for them to prohibit the use of tasers and pepper spray in their schools across the state," Burke said of the Texas Education Association.

In December the same groups sent a similar letter to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. TCOLE responded by saying they did not have the authority to prohibit the use of Tasers and pepper spray by individual school districts and their police departments. Taser International says it has sold devices to more than 4,000 school-based police agencies throughout the United States.

"At the very least they need to have some conversations with these school resource officers or police departments that are on contract or whatever and lay down some guidelines," Burke said. "I would rather they didn't use it at all. But absolutely if they're going to use these tools they must have training."

As of this writing the TEA had not yet responded publicly to the ACLU et al request.

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