From The New York Times
By The Editorial Board
April 11, 2014
Federal investigators have opened an inquiry into the tragic case of a high school student in Bastrop County, Texas, who suffered severe brain damage and nearly died last fall after a deputy sheriff shocked him with a Taser, a high voltage electronic weapon.
In North Carolina, civil rights lawyers have filed a complaint with the Justice Department, charging the Wake County school system with violating the constitutional rights of minority children by subjecting them to discriminatory arrest practices and brutality by police officers assigned to schools.
In one nightmarish case described in the complaint, a disabled 15-year-old was shocked with a Taser three times during an interrogation at school, resulting in punctured lungs. And in New York, civil rights lawyers have sued the city of Syracuse on behalf of two students. One was shocked three times, not for threatening behavior but for lying on the floor and crying, they say, and another was shocked while trying to break up a fight.
"Many districts need to overhaul practices that criminalize far too many young people and that are applied in ways that discriminate against minority children..."
Complaints about dangerous disciplinary practices involving shock weapons are cropping up all over the country. The problem has its roots in the 1990s, when school districts began ceding even routine disciplinary duties to police and security officers, who were utterly unprepared to deal with children. Many districts need to overhaul practices that criminalize far too many young people and that are applied in ways that discriminate against minority children. In the meantime, elected officials need to ban shock weapons in schools.
The Taser, the most popular of these weapons, uses a powerful electrical charge to create intense spasms that drive the suspect to the ground. Police organizations view such weapons as a means of defusing violent confrontations without resorting to deadly force. But a growing body of research shows how lethal these weapons can be.
A 2011 Justice Department study noted that some normal, healthy adults have died after being shocked but that people who are intoxicated or who suffer from heart disease or other significant illnesses may be at greater risk of death.
An even more troubling study by Amnesty International, which monitors this issue, estimates that since 2001 more than 550 people have died after being shocked by Tasers during arrest or while in jail.
Police agencies in the United States, the report found, routinely use the shock weapons on suspects who present no danger but fail to comply immediately with a police officer’s commands.
In the Texas case, Noe Niño de Rivera, a 17-year-old at Cedar Creek High School, collapsed after being shocked and struck his head on the floor. Doctors performed emergency surgery to repair a severe brain hemorrhage and subsequently placed him in a medically induced coma, in which he remained for 52 days. He now needs rehabilitation and is unlikely to fully recover.
The sheriff’s department said that a Taser was used against the teenager because he interfered while the deputies were breaking up a fight. A security video leading up the incident shows that the fight was already over when the officers arrived, and it seems to show the student backing away when one of the officers shocked him.
Civil rights groups point out that Texas has already prohibited Taser use in its juvenile justice facilities. The state should extend the restriction to its public schools. That would be a sensible start. Beyond that, school administrators need to reclaim responsibility for disciplinary matters from security or police officers, who too often treat students like criminals.