Fighting Back On Tasers

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

This is the message being sent by eight parents of eight junior high students,
aged 12–14, in four multi-million lawsuits in the U.S. Federal
District Court, Central District of Illinois–Urbana Division, on January
14, January 20, and February 11, 2010. These parents —Alta Young,
Stella Bender, Timothy Stone, Rhonda Bledsoe, Pearl Dossett, Angell
Leggett, Sakenya Love, and Paulette Calhoun-are alleging that their
children were tased in Kankakee Junior High School by the white School Resource Officer
and member of the Kankakee Police Department, Lonnie Netzel “without cause or
These four lawsuits have been filed in Federal and not State Courts due to the charge
of Denial of Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The eight parents allege that tasings by the Caucasion police officer only take place
against “African-American students,” or in one suit, “against minorities.” They also allege
that this is a pattern involving many more students, also African-American, and reaching
back into 2008. The specific litigated events took place between October, 2009 and January,
The City of Kankakee (Police Department) and the Kankakee School District, both
defendants in these cases, have characterized these incidents as involving, “unauthorized
demonstrations” for which the various children “volunteered.” These two phrases are
apparently attempts to detach responsibility from those charged. One incident described
asserts that Officer Netzel placed a newspaper on the classroom floor before ordering a
minor child to lay down on his stomach to be tasered on his buttocks; however, the student
got up before being tased and managed to “un-volunteer.” The general understanding
of the children was that the newspaper was placed on the floor in the event the child
defecated or urinated as a result of the tasering. There is no claim on the part of the
defendants that tasers were being used as punishment.
The first charge in all of the suits is “excessive force” in that the children were assaulted
by Officer Netzel “without cause, justification, reason or provocation.” This is a charge
that these acts violate due process under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
These events, (characterized as tasings not as stun gun or barbs, despite blood at the site
and “wounds” indicating that some were with barbs), took place in the cafeteria, the hallway,
the office of the Principal and in classrooms, in most cases in the presence of another
adult in authority. These individuals —Jason Worden, the Principal and four classroom
teachers —J. Labon, T. Lareau, Bradley Netzel, and K. Flanigan—are charged with State
counts of “Wanton and Willful disregard for the safety and rights of minors” when in loco
parentis (acting in place of parents), and with violation of the Abused and Neglected Children
Reporting Act, for failure to report these incidents. Indeed, one parent observes that
his son did not tell him at first because he believed that tasing was acceptable since a law
enforcement officer and his teacher condoned it. The parents claim that the taser use
upon their children was a “form of intimidation used to scare or threaten Kankakee
Junior High School students into behaving, although in these instances it was used
absent any bad behavior.”
An additional charge in three of the four lawsuits is, “Intentional Infliction of Emotional
Distress. “ Many of the children suffered PTSD-type symptoms including sleeplessness,
physical distress, social aversion, nightmares, fears and anxiety, especially around
returning to school. One of the twelve-year-olds is bi-polar and ADHD, and his symptoms
became aggravated as a result of the tasing.
Defendants in all of the suits are the Board of Education of Kankakee School District
111 the City of Kankakee as the municipal corporation responsible for the Kankakee
Police Department, and the individual School Resource Officer, Lonnie Netzel. The suits
allege the failure of the City of Kankakee to provide any training to the majority of its officers
regarding the proper use of taser guns, thereby leading the police officers to believe
that their actions would never be scrutinized. It is fairly common in municipal Use of
Force policies and taser training manuals to exclude the use of tasers on “children.” Low
body weight is actually a risk factor in receiving electrical shock; so are heart conditions
and one of the minors had a pre-existing heart murmur.
All of the plaintiffs are represented by the The Law Firm of Rowe & Associates. Rowe’s
website bears the motto, “We don’t like to write polite letters. We don’t like to plea bargain.
We don’t like to settle for crumbs. But we do like to fight.” James R. Rowe is handling
two other (non-federal) lawsuits against the County Sheriff’s department for tasing
prisoners for prolonged periods of time while they were strapped on tables. Rowe stated
that the purpose of the lawsuit is to get the behavior and training of Kankakee police officers
to change. There is no clear law in Illinois concerning taser use. But the recent (Dec.
28, 2009) landmark decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit creates
new opportunities for court cases and an impetus for new legislation. This ruling states
that individual police officers could be held liable for using a taser without “proper
cause.” Proper cause was ruled as follows: “The objective facts must indicate that the suspect
poses an immediate threat to the officer or the immediate public.” This ruling significantly
changes the “liability landscape” on tasers in the U.S. These four lawsuits may
take as long as two years to come to trial.
The parents of Kankakee have not had success yet in stopping the use of tasers on
school children. The States Attorney of Kankakee County, Jamie Boyd, has repeatedly
refused pleas to investigate parents’ complaints. The NAACP of Kankakee is pressing to
get tasers out of the schools. There is a hotline for anyone with information on police
brutality and/or use of tasers in Kankakee County. (815) 361-7420.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.