A cell phone camera captured an incident in a Texas high school that brings a whole new meaning to “choking” zero tolerance policies–a high school campus police officer with his hands wrapped around a 14-year-old male student’s throat. The teen’s dad wants the officer reprimanded.
Officials at Austin area Round Rock High School suspended Gyasi Hughes following an Oct. 8 confrontation with another student over a pair of prescription sports goggles that belonged to Hughes. The teen said he asked another student to hold his football goggles for him; when he went to retrieve them, the other student refused to give them back. According to CBS affiliate KEYE-TV, an administrator called for the two officers’ assistance in breaking up the fight.
“One male student refused to comply with an administrator and was attempting to continue to fight the other student,” read the Round Rock Police Department statement about the incident, highlighting police action was taken “for his safety and the safety of others.” It said this came after “repeated attempts to calm the non-compliant student, and stop him from going after the other student.”
However, the police statement did not specifically address what another student caught on cellphone — one of the two campus police grabbing the student by the throat and then taking him by force face down to the ground.
The footage did not capture the events leading up to the officer’s actions making it impossible to discern a complete picture of the entire situation, often the case when video captures out-of-context life snippets. Still, from what he saw, the teen’s father, Kashka Hughes, called it “totally unnecessary.”
He told KEYE-TV: “I believe that the officer in question should definitely go through some retraining or be reassessed in terms of how you handle conflicts like this.”
KVUE (ABC) identified the officer as Rigo Valles. The boy’s father wants Valles disciplined and filed a report with Round Rock police but plans to wait before considering his legal options including possibly pressing charges against the officer for allegedly using excessive force on his son. Kashka Hughes said Gyasi never had any trouble with the police or school previously.
No charges were filed against the teen. Kashka Hughes told KEYE-TV: “I believe if he directly contacted the officer in terms of like maybe grabbing him, something like that would be understood, at this moment he was emotional.” He said: “He was not being violent towards the officer, he wasn’t hitting him, he didn’t have a weapon, he was just emotional, which is mostly understood after being in a conflict just as he was.”
Gyasi Hughes told his side to the Austin CBS affiliate, explaining he was walking away when the officer “was pushing me in the back and I was like, ‘why are you pushing me? I’m not doing anything, I’m walking away like you told me to.'” He added: “Finally we get like in this little corner and he’s (the campus police officer) sitting there yelling at me saying, ‘You shouldn’t be rude to the lady (assistant principal), don’t talk to her like that,’ I was like, ‘what are you talking about, I’m not doing anything.’”
The teen continued: “Finally I asked him (the officer) to leave me alone and that’s the point when he grabbed me and took me down and tried to detain me.” He said: “I was just very upset, I was amped up over the fight and wasn’t really thinking.”
Student Sebastian Vazquez filmed the incident. He told KEYE-TV he heard a commotion while eating lunch and came out and saw his friend, Gyasi and another kid “pushing each other around,” noting the scuffle did not escalate into a full-blown fight. “Both cops got him in the corner, so I pulled my phone out to start recording because that seemed odd,” said Vazquez.
Round Rock ISD’s Student Code of Conduct manual, like all Texas school district behavioral handbooks, are built on the state’s 1995 Safe Schools Act and Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code. The district issued a statement, citing the “safety of all our students” as a top priority. They noted partnerships with Round Rock PD and the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department to maintain “the safest educational environment.” It also noted high school administrators were working with Round Rock police “regarding an incident involving two students Thursday afternoon to make sure proper procedures were followed.” It did not name Valles or his physical handling of Hughes, who returned to school last week. KXAN 7 (FOX) reported the officer remains on duty.
Breitbart Texas covers the school-to-prison pipeline, the result of suffocating zero tolerance policies nationwide that criminalize minors’ behavior, placing them in contact with law enforcement often over misbehavior once handled by a visit to the principal’s office. In recent legislative sessions, Texas decriminalized a number of superfluous behavioral infractions, most recently truancy, but the state also grants school districts broad discretionary leeway on handling behaviors deemed “disruptive.” The problem is “disruptive” can be a relative term in these compliance-seeking times.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.