Sunday, May 27, 2018
Public safety

Deputy uses Taser on Brandon middle school student during fight

TAMPA — A Hillsborough sheriff's deputy used a Taser on a 14-year-old McLane Middle School student on Tuesday during a fight at the Brandon school.

The brawl started about 4:15 p.m. between two teenage girls at the school bus ramp. School Resource Deputy Chad Keen tried to separate them, but his efforts — both physical and verbal — didn't work, according to the Sheriff's Office.

The crowd of student spectators grew, and Keen was hit as he continued to try to break up the fight. He wasn't successful, so he shocked one of the girls with the Taser, the Sheriff's Office said.

The second student, who is also 14, ran away and was later arrested at her Tampa home.

Both students were charged with assault and battery of a law enforcement officer, among other charges. They were taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center. The Tampa Bay Times is not naming them because of their ages. The girl who was shocked with the electric weapon did not need medical attention, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said Wednesday that it is rare for deputies to use a Taser on a student, though he did not have a precise number of incidents. He guessed it happened "a few times a year."

Using a Taser on students is not prohibited by any department policy. Instead, school resource deputies' actions are regulated by the agency's use-of-force continuum and rules regarding "electronic control devices."

"In this particular case, he had a violent fight. He had a large crowd. He tried to verbally break up the fight, and they turned on him," McKinnon said.

According to department policy, deputies must be trained to use Tasers and should use less lethal methods first. A verbal warning is usually required and, in general, a Taser can only be used on a threatening subject.

The policy doesn't list a cutoff age, such as saying that deputies can't us a Taser on juveniles. Instead, it states that "the subject age, physical ability and totality of the circumstances should be considered before deploying."

"The deputy has to make a determination," McKinnon said. For example, a Taser wouldn't be used on a 4-year-old child, but could be acceptable if an able-bodied 15-year-old was involved, McKinnon said, just like it might be okay to use a Taser on an adult but not one in a wheelchair.

The two teenage girls' parents were supportive of the deputy's actions, according to school district spokesman Steve Hegarty. The mother of the 14-year-old girl who was shot with the Taser was initially "very upset that the incident occurred at all."

"But she and the other parent were ultimately supportive," Hegarty said. The mother of the girl who was shocked with the Taser could not be reached Wednesday.

Staff writer Marlene Sokol and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

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