Local News

ACLU: School officers need to holster stun guns

Posted February 25, 2009 6:04 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:13 p.m. EDT

— The American Civil Liberties Union wants Cumberland County authorities to curb their use of stun guns in schools after the weapons were used twice on students in the last week.

Sheriff's deputies have used stun guns on eight Cumberland County students in the last six months. Most recently, school resource officers used stun guns to subdue a student at E.E. Smith High School who had assaulted an assistant principal and on a student at Ramsey Street High School who was involved in a fight.

The Ramsey Street High student had to have the prongs from the stun gun surgically removed, his father said, but authorities said the stun guns haven't injured any other students in the incidents since August.

Rebecca Headen, an attorney for the state chapter of the ACLU, said deputies are too quick to draw their stun guns and said Cumberland County needs to adopt a tougher standard for using them on students.

"This is a dangerous weapon that can hurt and even kill someone. It should be used as a last resort and not a disciplinary tool," Headen said.

The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office already has a strict policy on using stun guns, spokeswoman Debbie Tanna said. Deputies cannot use the weapons on children under age 8, elderly people or pregnant women, and they can use them only after warning a student at least twice, she said.

Deputies began using stun guns more than a year ago, and many resource officers in other school districts across North Carolina carry the weapons.

“They have seconds to make that decision. They are trained to make the right decision, and we feel that they have in all of these cases,” Tanna said. "These persons who were (stunned) were told twice to cease and desist, and they did not. They were combative."

Seventy-First High School Principal Alton Miller said a student who was stunned last April was argumentative and aggressive before the school resource officer fired his stun gun and brought the student to his knees.

"Any time that they use a Taser, you don't like it because it's a show of force," Miller said.

He said he and the resource officer at Seventy-First High always try to defuse a situation first by communication, but sometimes that's not enough.

“If he and I are together and walking among students (and) we feel something’s going to happen, (we ask ourselves), 'Do we pull it out or not?'” he said. “Sometimes, it can actually agitate a situation.”