30 03 2008

Cop Tases 11 Year Old Learning Disabled Girl

Simple Justice: A New York Criminal Defense Blog

Posted by SHG at 3/29/2008


According to this report by WFTV Eyewitness News, Thaliamar Jimenez was shot with a taser at Moss Park Elementary School in Orange County, Florida.  Thaliamar was a learning disabled 11 year old who had a tantrum and, as the officer tried to remove her from the class, hit the officer in the nose.

According to the arrest report, before school Thursday morning, another student told teachers at Moss Park that Thaliamar pushed a boy into the street. When teachers tried to talk to the girl she became combative, started pushing her desk and chair and even spit at the teachers.

“She actually spoke to the student, told her multiple times to come. Even after the student punched her, she still continued to try and make the arrest without having to taze her. And that obviously wasn’t working,” explained Corporal Susan Soto, Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

The school resource officer, Orange County Deputy Donna Hudepohl, tried to take Thaliamar to the principal’s office and that’s when the child started swinging, hitting the officer in the nose. So Deputy Hudepohl tased Thaliamar.

Many other parents are standing by the woman they call “their deputy.” “She had it coming. She assaulted an officer. You can’t let that go,” said parent Shanna Herrick. This is a far more complicated issue than would appear from the news report, which is quite disappointing in its lack of information.

The report states that Thaliamar was a learning disabled student with a behavioral component, which means that she should have had a behavioral intervention plan as part of her individualized education plan (IEP).  In other words, she wasn’t just some “bad girl” who became violent, but a girl who suffered from a disability that gave rise to a loss of control that manifested in this behavior.  This is a common occurrence with LD children, and one that schools should be prepared to handle.

When properly addressed, schools should be aware of the things that trigger uncontrolled outbursts and the ways to diffuse them without doing harm to the student or the student doing harm to others.  While the knee-jerk assumption is that all children have the ability to control their behavior, LD students can be viewed like people with Tourette Syndrome, where they have no ability to control the sounds they emit, often including epithets, and it is no reflection on their being deliberately violent or malevolent.

While the story notes that Thaliamar had prior violent episodes, there was no mention of the school having developed a plan to address her uncontrolled behavior. 

Typically, the parents of other students are intolerant of the needs of learning disabled students, both because they put their children at risk and because they are disruptive and problematic in class.  However, since public schools are wedded to the inclusion model of educating learning disabled students, and since there are few options available to parents of LD students, especially those who lack the ability to pay for the few extraordinarily expensive private schools dedicated to teaching them, even children with behavioral components remain in the classroom.

Still, it’s difficult to imagine that between the teachers, school administrators and police, they were unable to find a way to diffuse Thaliamar’s outburst short of shooting her with a taser.  In light of her learning disability, one would think that the school would have simply waited until she calmed down, diverted her attention or sought to reduce the level of confusion, tension, stimuli until she was able to better process what was happening around her. 

The natural assumption, that Thaliamar had control over her behavior, does not necessarily apply to some LD kids.  When police order them to stop, it produces the opposite affect, increasing tension and the level in stimuli, which the LD student cannot process adequately or quickly.  When the student does not obey, or lashes out because they don’t comprehend what is happening around them, police misapprehend the meaning of their conduct and react.

In the past, I’ve posted about parents of LD children reaching out to their local police and educating them about their child for the specific purpose of avoiding situations like this.  Some police departments have taken the initiative to train their officers to identify and address learning disabled children, particularly since the prevalence of autism looms as a significant problem for police. 

It’s impossible to imagine that this situation could not have been handled far better than it was, and the simplistic calculus, girl hit officer so officer tased girl, reflects a disastrously wrong response.  Schools are failing learning disabled students, in the first instance, and police must be trained in how to handle the children to avoid exacerbating the situation and causing needless and pointless harm.

These situations are bound to increase if schools and police don’t get a handle on how to address learning disabled students with behavioral components.  We don’t tase children because they are disabled and don’t understand.  Even if the other parents think it’s just fine.




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