NEW PORT RICHEY — The students at River Ridge High School saw the fight, and another boy had a black eye. Nick Wood was getting arrested.
Except the 16-year-old wouldn't cooperate. He pulled his hands away from the handcuffs and pushed against Cpl. Arthur Morrison, the school resource officer.
So Morrison blasted the teen's face with pepper spray. And when Wood continued to writhe and resist, he was jolted a couple of times with a Taser.
Wood's mother, Wendy Eden, had been called to River Ridge after the schoolyard brawl and watched in horror Thursday afternoon as her son was forcibly subdued. Her son should have cooperated, Eden said, but three Taser blasts on a sophomore was overkill.
"He was done with the first one," Eden said. "They didn't need to do the second, and they certainly didn't need to do the third. I don't know what else they wanted him to do."
Kevin Doll, a spokesman for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, said the corporal followed procedure in using progressive levels of force until the suspect cooperated. Morrison and another deputy tried to physically restrain Wood before resorting to pepper spray, then a "drive stun" shock from the Taser, and finally shooting the sharp-hooked wires that deliver the crippling current.
"He had already battered a student. We had evidence of that crime," Doll said. "When someone resists arrest, officers have to do what they have to do to take them into custody."
Eden, 37, got swept into the escalating situation, and was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer, battery on a school employee and obstruction.
Authorities say she pushed an assistant principal into a wall and interfered with the deputies arresting her son. Eden said she was only pleading with a deputy to stop, and that it was the assistant principal who pushed her into the wall, in an attempt to keep the mother out of the fracas.
Neither Eden nor her son has been in trouble before. Wood belongs to the Junior ROTC program at River Ridge and aspires to join the military. His nickname at the school is "Army Boy." Until Thursday, Eden's only brush with the law had been a speeding ticket. Her husband is a supervisor for an oxygen tank delivery company; she is a stay-at-home mom for her two sons.
Eden said she told Wood to cooperate with the investigation, and not to fight the arrest.
"He's a good boy, but he's got a 16-year-old attitude, like he thinks he's a man, but he knows he's not one yet," she said.
After the corporal unleashed the pepper spray, Eden said, her son was in such pain that he couldn't pull his hands away from his face to cooperate with the handcuffing.
"You curl up like a baby and you want to rip your own eyes out," Eden said, describing the pain inflicted by the chemicals that dripped from her son's face. "I don't see why they couldn't understand — he's a child, he's grabbing his face because he's hurt. It's a natural reaction. Give him a minute."
But the reports from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office describe a more aggressive teen, saying Wood grabbed at one deputy, then snatched the other officer's wrists and shoved her into a wall. The report describes Wood as 5 feet 8, 150 pounds.
Doll said the Sheriff's Office has no policy restricting the use of Tasers on juveniles. Pasco deputies have used the devices on teens before, he said, but he couldn't recall any case involving a kid younger than 15.
"I don't think this was the first time, by any means," Doll said. But he added: "Usually the threat (of being Tased) is enough."
Wood will be held for 21 days at Pasco's Juvenile Detention Center, facing two counts of battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest with violence and simple battery. His mother worries that the incident will bounce him from JROTC and dash his dream of enlisting in the Army.
"I don't think his life will ever be the same," she said, "over a five-minute thing."
Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.