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Texas School Resource Officers Pepper Spray, Tase Students During HS Protest, Prompting Police Brutality Outcry

By Mark Keierleber | November 22, 2021

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A school district in suburban Dallas will investigate a sexual harassment allegation and police officers’ use of force after a student protest turned chaotic Friday, resulting in the arrest of four students and accusations of police brutality. 

Viral videos of the incident show disturbing interactions between police and students, one of whom appeared to be a Black male teen who was pepper-sprayed, tasered and dragged by the shirt as he lay unresponsive on the ground. Some students coughed and fled the scene as the pepper spray filled a school hallway. Another video appeared to show an officer pulling a girl across the hallway by her hair.

The incident at Little Elm High School unfolded during a Friday morning protest after a student claimed on Snapchat that she was sexually harassed by another student on a bus and disciplined for coming forward. On social media, teens at the 8,300-student district accused administrators of mishandling sexual misconduct complaints. A city spokesperson told local reporters that police mobilized after students acted “aggressively” toward an administrator. 

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School resource officers and how they interact with students, particularly students of color, have been under fierce scrutiny since George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020. Amid national Black Lives Matter protests, dozens of districts ended longstanding ties with school-based officers, although several districts have recently reversed course, citing student safety concerns. 

Andrew Hairston, director of the Education Justice Project at Texas Appleseed, an advocacy group, called the viral videos “such a harrowing thing to witness,” and accused police of preventing students from checking to see if their classmate was OK as he laid on the floor after getting tasered. 

“The police officers are the violence,” Hairston said. “They are the threat in that video.” 

Two students were arrested for assaulting police officers, Little Elm Mayor Curtis Cornelious said in a statement

“When a third student attempted to interfere with the arrest, the officer was forced to use pepper spray, and then a taser when the student would not stop advancing toward the officer,” he said. “A fourth student spit on an officer, which Texas law deems as an assault.”

In an initial statement on Facebook that was deleted but later reposted, the school district said a student demonstration caused “some students to behave in a way that caused a major disruption.” 

“The demonstration was a result of a social media post the day before that contained inaccurate information regarding an incident that happened a month ago,” the district said in the statement. 

Superintendent Daniel Gallagher said Monday the events leading to Friday’s student demonstration “hits us at the core of who we are and we have to find a way to restore the trust you need in order for all of us to move forward.” In a statement, Gallagher said the district “immediately launched an investigation” after a student made an allegation against a classmate. 

Though no students faced discipline for reporting sexual misconduct, misinformation that claimed otherwise proliferated on social media, he said. 

School and police officials were prepared “to accommodate a peaceful walkout,” but the protest “was not peaceful and caused a major disruption,” Gallagher said. “In one incident — not currently being shown on social media — a large group of students attempted to break into an administrator’s office in pursuit of targeted individuals who were in genuine fear for their safety.” 

Gallagher said school officials will hold a “listening session” on Nov. 30 to allow parents “an opportunity to voice their concerns, thoughts and provide suggestions to the district administration.” He also announced plans to create a committee to review the district’s sexual harassment reporting and investigation process, an “after-action review” of Friday’s clash between students and police and “an independent investigation” into the sexual harassment allegation that led to the student protest. 

Cornelious said the city will review the incident to ensure the officers followed proper police department procedures, but maintained that social media videos often lack necessary content to understand the full situation. 

“Whenever an officer arrests someone who’s acting aggressively or resisting, it’s hard to watch,” Cornelious said. “But Texas law gives police the right to take steps necessary to make an arrest. Those steps include the use of tasers and pepper spray as safe, non-lethal methods of subduing someone who is being aggressive and refusing to respond to requests.” 

Meanwhile, Hairston said the incident should reenergize national efforts to remove police from schools and encouraged Little Elm administrators to display “political courage.” 

“Dozens of districts have taken significant steps toward police divestment but so much more work needs to be done to get police out of schools,” he said. “More and more people are understanding that it’s an irredeemable institution. School policing can’t be reformed.” 

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