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Tales of Misconduct
Taser Madness: Flagler Legal

For the citizen's safety

A judge and the State Attorney’s office are restoring a little sanity in the case of the 17-year-old student a sheriff’s deputy shot with a Taser, in the student’s classroom, two weeks ago. (See the case background here). It turns out that a circuit judge in 2006 ordered the boy, then 15, into a “moderate-risk residential program for delinquent teens.” He’d been violent enough with his mother—throwing a cordless phone at her (she ducked) and stealing her credit cards—that she’d called 911 on a couple of occasions, leading to charges against him and the judge’s order: it was clear even then that it wasn’t punishment he needed, but help. The assistant state attorney in court on Thursday made that very point. He never went to a residential program because there wasn’t a bed available for him: so it goes with our social services. Help for delinquency is a luxury, when it should be a basic service. No help for the kid? Throw him back out on his own, let him fend for himself against the usual structures and strictures of a different kind of arrested development: that of police thuggery posing as school discipline. I can hear the local nattering brigades, in this liberally reactionary county of ours, taking the student’s violent past as vindication for their punishing judgments and his tasering: Look, he attacked his mother, he has a record, he’s a felon, and so on. They’ll point to the teacher’s reaction as more vindication for the deputy’s reaction (“scared” is how the latest story has the teacher in class, even though the teacher in his witness statement at no point indicated anything resembling fright; oh, how time facilitates self-serving embellishment). So goes the wagon-circling, although it was good to see the state attorney and the judge attempting to knock back a little sense into the situation: the student’s history changes nothing about the incident itself. It was mishandled. He should never have been tasered. The fact that he shouldn’t have been in the classroom in the first place suggests that the school obviously knew of his past, obviously knew of his instability, and obviously should have invoked more guarded and less inflaming, not more violent, means of subduing him. A Taser shot of course is always the easiest recourse. Who knows, maybe Scott Vedder, the deputy who tasered him, and who had previous run-ins with him outside of school, wasn’t using his taser on him for the first time. The newspaper also ran a column by a former special education teacher with thirty-three years’ experience who doesn’t mince words:

I have been following, with more than a passing interest, the story line concerning the use of a Taser against a Flagler County special education student. It is a familiar scene with an added twist. I can tell you that after spending more than 35,000 hours with this type of student, I can offer one indisputable conclusion: Cops do not belong in schools, period. End of argument. Teachers take four to six years in college, additional in-service training, then add countless hours of professional experience in learning how to deal effectively with behavior problems. With rare exceptions, administrators—and least of all police—have neither the training nor the one-to-one interaction that is required to make the correct, split-second decisions necessary to defuse a potentially volatile scenario. An example would be the increasingly more prevalent occurrences of in-school violence. In schools where emotionally disturbed students are the only pupils, these things are much rarer. That is because their staff members know what to look for, what to do and when to do it. In addition, the more the kids see the police, the less of a quieting effect it has on them. It seems to me that in the Flagler Palm Coast High School Taser incident, the school followed the correct protocols, up to the point where they called the police officer. After you clear the class and take away his audience, what more can this kid do? […] Remove the focus of his anger—person, test, etc.—and wait for his mind to go on to something else. […] Even a slow learner, and I’m not talking about students here, should realize that escalating either of these episodes to the point that they lead to altercation and reports in The News- Journal, and national media too, is not the desired outcome. Schools should be educational settings, for heaven’s sake, not a place for children to be treated like criminals. [See the full column...]

But we’re living in times when police and “authorities”’ assumptions are such that in any given unusually situation pitting an individual against authorities, the individuals is automatically a suspect, a danger to be controlled at all costs.

Previous pieces in this series:

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