• December 21, 2014

ACLU calls for ban on Tasers, pepper spray on school officers

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Posted: Thursday, February 20, 2014 4:30 am

Walker Veal would never allow officers to carry Tasers on Killeen Independent School District campuses.

“They’re not authorized Tasers and as long as I’m chief here, they never will,” said Veal, chief of police for the Killeen ISD Police Department.

But, police officers who patrol school systems across Central Texas don’t always carry the same weapons.

The 18 Killeen ISD officers in the school police department are equipped with handguns, an expandable baton and pepper spray.

The Copperas Cove Independent School Department has two full-time Copperas Cove Police Department officers stationed at the high school, said Sgt. Julie Lehmann, a spokeswoman for the police department. Both are equipped with Tasers and pepper spray.

Matt Simpson, policy strategist for American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said there should be more consistency in terms of what officers carry at public schools. But, even more so, he said Tasers and pepper spray should both be banned.

Last week, the ACLU of Texas and six other civil rights and social justice organizations sent a letter to Texas Commissioner of Education Michael L. Williams requesting the state prohibit the use of “less-than-lethal” weapons on students.

“Tasers are not allowed for use on youth in Texas’ juvenile lockups, and they should not be allowed for use on Texas’ school children,” the letter stated. “Given the dangers associated with Tasers and pepper spray — particularly for children — we believe the state’s leadership must act more definitively to protect our youth.”

Simpson said he wants to ban the items so there are no more “dramatic incidences” that create a negative educational environment.

The letter refers to Noe Nino de Rivera, who was stunned by an officer in November when he tried to stop a fight between two girls in the hallway of Cedar Creek High School in Bastrop County. After falling and hitting his head as a result of being shocked, Nino de Rivera suffered brain damage and was in a medically induced coma for more than 50 days.

To avoid misuse of weapons, Simpson said officers should receive specialized training for handing students rather than adults.

“I don’t think it’s fair to tell some parents to send their kids to school to face deputies with no training and a Taser,” while other students go to schools where officers have extensive training on specialized issues, such as mental health, he said.

In Killeen, Veal said three officers are assigned to each of the four high schools, one at Gateway High School and three patrol officers who cover the elementary and middle schools, with jurisdiction in Killeen, Harker Heights and Nolanville.

District officers don’t use pepper spray on a routine basis, he said. And, when they do, there’s an outlined policy in place for what to do after a student is sprayed.

Alongside the pepper spray, Veal said officers also carry a neutralizer they spray on students to eliminate the burn after they have the student under control.

The policy requires officers to contact the school nurse, EMS and custodial staff to make sure the spray is wiped off the floor.

The last time a Killeen ISD officer used pepper spray on a student was more than four years ago as an officer was being overpowered by a student, Veal said. Eight years ago, pepper spray was used by a Killeen ISD officer at a basketball game.

“It’s just a tool that maybe once in a great while we’ll have to use,” Veal said.

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