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Police Use Taser on 6 Year-Old At School

by sources
A United States police officer has used a stun gun on a six-year-old boy to keep him from cutting himself with a piece of broken glass, sparking controversy.
Miami-Dade County police chief Bobby Parker has defended the officer's decision.

"Had the child cut his vein and the officer had not Tasered the child, somebody would be saying, 'well, you had the Taser, why didn't you Taser the child'," Mr Parker told the Miami Herald newspaper.

A Taser is a gun which fires an incapacitating electric charge of 50,000 volts.

At least one local official and many residents have questioned the police officer's actions.

"I really can't believe they did that," County Commissioner Joe Martinez told the newspaper. "This might be a good opportunity to review our policy."

MIAMI, FL -- Police in Miami Dade County say they did the right thing when the used a Taser to subdue a six year-old at school.

The school's principal called 911 after the child broke a picture frame in her office and waved a piece of glass to keep people away from him.

When two Miami-Dade officers arrived the scene the boy had already cut himself under his eye and cut a large gash in his hand.

The officers tried to reason with the boy, but when he started cutting his own leg, they shocked him with a Taser. They then grabbed him to prevent him from hurting himself when he hit the floor and called an ambulance.

Miami Police say the Taser was necessary to prevent the boy from seriously harming himself with the glass.

Today Governor Jeb Bush told the Associated Press he doesn't know the circumstances of why adults couldn't control a six-year-old.

He says he would have to know the facts before commenting on it. But he says that there are
procedures in place to deal with children armed with a weapon on something that could cause harm.

The boy was taken to a nearby hospital and is doing okay. He is now undergoing a psychiatric evaluation.

Miami-Dade police shocked a 6-year-old boy with a 50,000-volt stun gun to keep him from hurting himself with a piece of glass he was waving around in a school office, officials confirmed Thursday.

Police say they followed their Taser guidelines, the child wasn't injured by the shock and he might have hurt himself seriously if they hadn't shocked him.

But the incident, which occurred Oct. 20 at Kelsey Pharr Elementary in Brownsville, has child advocates and experts shaking their heads in disbelief.

''It just sounds excessive to me to Taser gun a 6-year-old when everyone else around there were adults,'' said retired Broward County Juvenile Judge Frank Orlando, who runs a youth-law clinic at Nova Southeastern University. ``They couldn't subdue a 6-year-old? Must have been a pretty big kid.''

Police Director Bobby Parker said his department is reviewing the incident, but he defended the officer's decision to use the stun gun.

''We know the child was not harmed other than the little tiny probe pricks you get with the Taser,'' Parker said. 'What we do not know is if the child would or would not have subsequently cut his vein. Had the child cut his vein and the officer had not Tasered the child, somebody would be saying, `Well, you had the Taser. Why didn't you Taser the child?' ''

The boy, who has not been identified, had broken a picture frame in the assistant principal's office and was keeping a security guard at bay when the principal called 911. The police report did not say why the boy was so agitated, but principal Maria Mason told police he had a history of behavioral problems. Mason declined to comment Thursday.

By the time Miami-Dade Officers Marie Abbott and Yolanda Rivera and schools police Officer Valerie Staten arrived, the boy had a cut under his right eye and another on his left hand. The officers tried to get him to put down the shard, according to the police report.

Abbott slid a trash can, hoping the boy would throw the glass away.

When he wouldn't, Rivera contacted a supervisor to see if there was a policy prohibiting the use of a stun gun on a child. There isn't, and the officer was told to do what she felt was necessary.

The officers continued to talk to the child, who didn't respond.

When he tried to cut his own thigh, the officers acted. Abbott shocked him with her Taser while Rivera grabbed him before he collapsed.

The boy was treated by paramedics at the school and taken to Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he was committed for psychiatric evaluation.


''By using the Taser, we were able to stop the situation, stop him from hurting himself,'' police spokesman Juan DelCastillo said. ``We inflicted no injuries on him. We were able to take him to the hospital, and hopefully he's going to get the mental health attention he needs.

''Sure, he could have been tackled and maybe injured, maybe his arm broken or maybe that glass could have cut him in a critical area,'' DelCastillo said.

The schools police are also reviewing the incident to ''determine if we need any kind of clearer understanding between the two agencies,'' said Joseph Garcia, school district spokesman.

''We're not going to second-guess officers who were trying to come to the aid of a child who was in fairly desperate straits,'' he said, adding that schools police don't carry Tasers.

The two Miami-Dade officers arrived first at the school, 2000 NW 46th St., because the schools officer was farther away, Garcia said.

The incident concerned some community leaders and child advocates.

''I really can't believe they did that,'' said County Commissioner Joe Martinez, a former Miami-Dade police officer. ``This might be a good opportunity to review our policy.''

Some police departments, including the city of Miami, prohibit using a Taser on a child except in cases in which the only other option is to shoot the child with a gun. The Miramar and Coral Springs police departments also equip their officers with Tasers, but do not have policies on who can be shocked.

Miami-Dade -- which plans to issue Tasers to all patrol officers -- only prohibits using the Taser on pregnant women, but its policy does not mention children.

Miami-Dade Public Defender Bennett Brummer suggested the department also review its critical-incident training.

''It appears that the officers felt it was necessary to use a Taser to gain control of a 6-year-old,'' he said. ``This is a drastic measure that would not be permitted by other police departments and is troubling.

''Perhaps they could rely on the experience of the city of Miami with the improvements the city made in its crisis-intervention training,'' he said.

Sgt. Mike Barry, the officer in charge of training Miami-Dade police on the Tasers, declined to discuss the specifics of the case, but said all officers receive eight hours of training, and Abbott was issued her Taser in July.

He added that the Kelsey Pharr boy was the youngest child Miami-Dade officers have shocked with a Taser.

Parker called the Miami police policy flawed.

''Are you telling me that the city's policy is to let that child bleed out rather than Tasing them?'' Parker said. ``If that's their policy, potentially it's flawed. . . . Common sense dictates that unless it's extreme circumstances, you will not Tase a child. But we can't take that discretion away from the officer.''

Miami-Dade School Board Vice Chairman Robert Ingram, who spent 20 years as a Miami police officer and more than five years as Opa-locka police chief, said board members were not told of the incident. He learned of it from a reporter.

''The question is: You're standing there and what will provide the greater injury -- my trying to get the glass from him or using the Taser?'' Ingram said. ``It seems like the greater harm would come from the Taser.''

He was concerned about using a Taser on a young child.

''We've heard of people having heart failure with a Taser,'' he said. ``What happens when you hit a 6-year-old with an adult dose?''

In September, a Broward County attorney died after being shocked with a Taser by Miami police. Autopsy results have not been released, but police believe he died of a drug overdose.


Former Miami-Dade medical examiner Joe Davis said he didn't know whether Taser effects on a child would be different than those on an adult. But he worried the stun guns weren't tested on children.

''Those things are designed for adults; they're not designed for children,'' he said. ``The whole idea is to disarm somebody who's a real threat. It's a substitute for shooting the person.

``When you start using it for other things, for potty training, that's not too good.''

However, Kenneth Goodman, co-director of the University of Miami's Ethics Programs, pointed out the officer had to quickly weigh a difficult set of circumstances.

''The core issue here is, did the cop believe that the failure to use this device would have increased the risk or caused a risk of the child being hurt worse,'' Goodman said.

``I wasn't there and I wouldn't second-guess a cop who is making that decision under fraught circumstances in the heat of the moment.''

MIAMI - Parents and community leaders are outraged that a Miami-Dade County police officer used a stun gun to subdue a 6-year-old boy who was using a shard of glass to cut himself and hold a security officer at bay.

Many said they couldn't fathom why an adult used a Taser to shock a first-grader rather than restraining him.

"I couldn't imagine why a police officer would use that kind of device on a child," said Marvin Dunn, a psychology professor at Florida International University who was formerly a principal at an alternative school. "I can restrain a 6-year-old with one hand. I don't get it."

The incident occurred Oct. 20 inside the principal's office at Kelsey L. Pharr Elementary School, police said. The unidentified child, who has a history of behavioral problems, was alone in the office with a school security officer.

Principal Maria Mason told police she heard glass breaking and rushed into her office where the boy was bleeding and holding a piece of glass he'd taken out of a picture frame he broke with his fist.

By the time school district and Miami-Dade police officers arrived, the boy had cut himself under his right eye, was bleeding from his left hand and was smearing blood over his face, according to police reports.

An officer then slid a trash can toward the boy and tried to persuade him to throw away the glass. The boy responded by tightening his grip on the glass, the reports said.

As officers continued trying to calm the boy, he began cutting his leg, police said. That's when Miami-Dade Officer Maria Abbott fired the stun gun. The probes hit the boy in the middle of his torso and the bottom of his shirt.

"To further prevent the student from injuring himself, the officer felt she needed to deploy the stun gun," police Detective Randy Rossman said.

Officers then grabbed him and took away the glass, police said. Paramedics checked the boy's injuries, which consisted of the area where he was stunned and the cuts on his hand and face. The boy was committed for psychiatric evaluation.

Miami-Dade police policy prohibits the use of Tasers only against pregnant women. Before the officer used the stun gun on the boy, Miami-Dade Officer Yolanda Rivera, who was on the scene, called a sergeant and verified its use was within department policy.

Rossman said the department's administration was reviewing its Taser policy.

Dunn said there are methods of physically restraining children and dealing with emotionally disturbed children. Clearing the room and having just one person speaking calmly to the child could have been one option, he said.

"You simply escalate the situation when you bring more adults into the picture," Dunn said.
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