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NYCLU Sues Police Officer Over Taser of a Syracuse 9th Grader

The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court on behalf of a Syracuse student who was shot with a Taser by a police officer last year. The student, a ninth grader at the time, was attempting to stop a fight between two female classmates at Fowler High School at the time of the incident.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, maintains that the police officers used excessive force and violated his constitutional rights. It names the city and the two police officers involved in the incident as defendants.

“Tasers are dangerous, even deadly, weapons,” said Barrie Gewanter, director of the NYCLU’s Central New York Chapter. “The officers in this case were guided by policies and practices that may be suitable for fighting crime on the streets, but are completely inappropriate for working with children in a learning environment.”

The plaintiff, A.E., was a 15-year-old ninth grader at the time of the incident and had recently moved to Syracuse from Michigan. On Sept. 28, 2009, A.E. was sitting on a school bus in front of the school when a female student asked to borrow his cell phone. A.E. lent the student his phone and followed her off the bus as she made a call. While outside, another female student attacked the student who had borrowed A.E.’s phone.

A.E. stepped between the students and attempted to break up the confrontation. Then several police officers arrived on the scene. Without warning, one of the officers fired a Taser. At least one of the weapon’s twin barbs lodged into A.E.’s left arm. A.E., who was not resisting any lawful order, suffered two extremely painful shocks that caused him to tense up and spin around in agony and confusion. The officers yelled at A.E to get on the ground. He was handcuffed and arrested with the Taser barb still in his arm. It was only his fifth day at his new school.

Later A.E. was taken by ambulance to SUNY Upstate Medical University Hospital. At the hospital, a police officer told A.E.’s mother that the use of the Taser was a “mistake.” A.E. was never charged with any crime.

“I still don’t understand why I got tased; I was only trying to stop a fight,” A.E. said. “This is one of the scariest things I’ve ever been through. I don’t want any other kids to go through what I’ve been through.”

A.E. suffered continuous pain in his left arm for between three and four weeks after the incident. More than a year later, he still experiences recurring pain. The incident deeply embarrassed A.E. in front of a large group of his new classmates. He has been the butt of rumors and jokes about it.

The lawsuit maintains that the incident was the inevitable result of the city’s policies and practices governing the deployment of armed police officers in the public schools, officers who are trained for patrolling the city’s streets and not adequately trained to patrol the hallways and playgrounds of its schools. Furthermore, the Police Department’s policy on Tasers makes no distinctions between using the weapon on an adult or a child. Nor does it differentiate between using a Taser in schools or on the streets, and it does not require an officer to issue a warning before firing the weapon.

“Monitoring children in a learning environment is much different than patrolling the streets and the Police Department’s policies should address that distinction,” said NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney and Upstate Litigation Coordinator Corey Stoughton, lead counsel on the case. “Otherwise, more students will suffer frightening and unnecessarily violent encounters with police officers.”

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the officers’ actions against A.E. violated the U.S. Constitution and state law. It also requests compensatory damages for A.E.’s family, who incurred substantial medical bills as a result of the incident.

To read the full complaint, visit http://www.nyclu.org/files/releases/Epps_Complaint_Final_12.21.10.pdf.

 

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  1. […] NYCLU Sues Police Officer Over Taser of a Syracuse 9th Grader (www.onthewilderside.com) […]

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