The Texas American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is calling for “affirmative steps to end the use of tasers and pepper spray on students” in public schools.
In a letter to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, the ACLU cited an incident surrounding a 17-year-old student named Neo Rivera. In November, the teen went into a coma after a cop used a taser on him in a school hallway — officers argue that the teen was being “combative,” but Rivera’s parents claim he was in the hall trying to break up a fight between two other students. After being tased, the 17-year-old fell backwards and hit his head on the floor. He is no longer in the coma, but now suffers from serious neurological problems.
After the ACLU’s initial letter was snubbed by the Texas Municipal Police Association for lacking “authority,” the group sent a second letter to Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. This one was 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.
In response, the Texas Education Agency released a statement that stated, “There is no authorization in state law that would allow TEA to prohibit law enforcement personnel from carrying or using Tasers or pepper spray in the course of their duties within public school. That is a conversation that has to take place among local elected officials.”
But the ACLU continues to insist that action must be taken.
ACLU of Texas executive director Terri Burke said, “Tasers have been shown to be harmful to adults. 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…So let’s use all the other old fashioned tools that have been used for years, good old fashioned police work.”
Although Taser International has sold over 4,000 devices to school-based police agencies throughout the U.S., tasers have historically been used infrequently on students. Austin ISD Police Chief Eric Mendez said his department purchased tasers ten years ago, but has never had to use one on a student. “We try to work with the student [and] try to get them to comply,” Chief Mendez said.
Critics of the ACLU’s proposal point out that current policy prevents tasers being used on individuals under 14-years-old as well as individuals with disabilities. Some also assert that tasers are necessary to protect students from peers who may pose a threat.
Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, argued that tasers are needed in today’s public schools. “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. 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,” President Hunt said.