Thursday, Nov. 15, 2007

Some question Taser use at school

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After a Frederick County sheriff’s deputy used a Taser to subdue a Tuscarora High School student last week, some parents have questioned the need to use such weapons on school grounds.

At least three parents e-mailed Frederick County Board of Education members questioning the way the situation was handled, said Marita Loose, spokeswoman for Frederick County Public Schools.

‘‘They wanted more explanation,” Loose said. ‘‘The overriding question was: ‘Was it appropriate?’”

The Nov. 8 incident was the first time a Taser, or stun gun, had been used on school grounds in Frederick County since school resource officers started carrying the weapon in the beginning of the 2006 school year.

School resource officers carry the same selection of weapons as any other sheriff’s deputy: pepper spray, a Taser, an expandable baton and a handgun, said Cpl. Jennifer Bailey, spokeswoman for the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.

‘‘A Taser is one of the less lethal weapons that we use,” she said. Each officer decides what weapon to use and how to handle a situation based on their training as a sheriff’s deputy, Bailey said.

‘‘Every situation is different,” Bailey said. ‘‘We hope that a deputy can just talk to the student. In this case, he was already dealing with one student. [Using the Taser] was appropriate.”

According to court records, Cpl. Jody Maybush, who is assigned to the school, broke up a fight between two girls Nov. 8, and was walking one of them away when Dereck M. Holland walked up to the girl, wrapped his hands around her, and refused to let go, saying she was his sister.

Maybush asked Holland, 18, of Frederick, to step away, and he refused, so Maybush pointed a Taser at him and gave him a final warning. At that point, Holland said ‘‘‘Do it’ in a confrontational manner,” court records state.

Maybush shot the Taser once, with the electrodes hitting Holland in the chest and thigh through his clothes, without penetrating his skin. Holland was arrested and transported to Frederick Memorial Hospital for a checkup.

He was released soon after, and taken to the Frederick County Adult Detention Center.

Holland has been charged with obstructing and hindering a police officer, disturbing school operations, disorderly conduct and failure to obey police orders.

Bailey said the 15-year-old girl was also arrested in connection with the fight, and charged as a juvenile with second-degree assault, disrupting school activities and disorderly conduct.

According to Sgt. Mary Ann Kobylenski, supervisor for the Frederick County School Resource Officer program, by using the taser, Maybush responded in the way he had been trained.

‘‘It is a split-second decision,” she said. ‘‘The officer had no backup. It was either that or probably physically fighting him.”

Maybush could have caused Holland more harm if he had chosen to use pepper spray instead of a Taser, Kobylenski said.

A Taser tightens muscles and paralyzes the body for a second; pepper spray can cause burning in the eyes that has a longer effect, Kobylenski said.

Deputies are familiar with the effects of each of the weapons because they are required to use them on themselves before they are allowed to use them on other people, she said.

In Frederick County Public Schools, the school resource officer program started in 2000. Before that, schools had to wait for police to respond to calls, Loose said.

Today, one resource officers from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office are stationed at each of the 10 public high schools and one at the Heather Ridge School, Loose said.

‘‘We have found that their presence can be a deterrent to disturbance,” Loose said.

Weapons on campus

School resource officers carry the following weapons in schools: