Education

Durham deputy's use of stun gun on Northern High student questioned

Posted October 21, 2015 6:22 p.m. EDT

— The Durham County Sheriff's Office is reviewing an incident Monday in which a school resource officer used a stun gun on a student at Northern High School.

A cellphone video of the incident shows a student throwing two punches at two resource officers in the school cafeteria, and they wrestled him to the ground before one fired his stun gun. The video then shows the student went limp on his left side when he was hit by the device.

"He just started swinging on the cops," Northern High senior James Webb said. "They were just really surprised."

"I feel that the police took the right measures to handle the situation," senior Rhianna Council said, adding that she thought the student was out of control. "He was fighting back, and the police tried to stop him, and he didn’t."

The sheriff's office declined to comment on the incident, other than to say officials review every use-of-force case.

Some people are questioning whether any force was needed, however.

"Was there another way to have handled it other than him being tased in front of the other children?" said Yolanda Williams, the mother of a Northern High student. "Could they have not at least two or three handled it together? I’m not sure."

"They could have restrained him with something like handcuffs. They didn’t have to resort to tasing him like that," Webb said.

The use-of-force policy in the Durham County Sheriff's Office, which applies to school resource officers, considers stun guns as a low-level use of force, on par with pepper spray. It is designed to “neutralize a significant, immediate threat, which may otherwise justify the use of deadly force.”

Lisa Pendergraph, the mother of a Northern High student, said that, after watching the cellphone video, she felt the stun gun was used appropriately.

"He had to get him under control. That’s the only way he could do it without actually physically confronting him to get him to calm down," Pendergraph said. "If my child started that kind of fight, if that’s what it took to get him under control, then that’s what it took."