Days after a video went viral, felony charges have been dropped against a 16-year-old girl who was shocked with a Taser after biting one Chicago police officer and kicking and punching another during a scuffle at a West Side high school that sent all three tumbling down a staircase.
Prosecutors did not say why they were dismissing the two counts of aggravated battery against the junior, and even the judge acknowledged not knowing the reason.
“OK, so the state is choosing to dismiss all charges today,” Judge Sanju Oommen Green told the girl, who was standing next to her attorney and her father. “I don’t know why.” The Tribune is not identifying the girl because she is a minor.
The state’s attorney’s office released a brief statement afterward saying only, “Based on a review of the evidence, we concluded that in the interest of justice, we will not pursue charges and today asked the court to dismiss the case.”
The girl’s attorney said he believes the actions of the officers contributed to the decision. “It was excessive force by the police,’’ lawyer Andrew M. Stroth said. “An unarmed 16-year-old girl was punched, tased and kicked for no reason.’’
Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the officers “did not do anything wrong.” But since force was used, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability will investigate the incident as a matter of routine “to see if it was handled appropriately,” Guglielmi said. “If it wasn’t, they’ll be held accountable. As of now, they’re on medical leave.”
Department policy on Taser use does not include specific age limits but does state: “People who are at a greater risk of serious injury or death from Taser use include, but are not limited to, children, pregnant women and the elderly.”
The Chicago Public Schools said in a statement it is asking the district’s inspector general to review the incident and will cooperate with the COPA investigation. “This disturbing incident has absolutely no place in our schools,” it said.
The girl does not deny biting the officer and struggling with both officers in a stairwell at Marshall High School around 10 a.m. Jan. 29. The officers had been called after the girl got into a confrontation with the assistant principal, according to Chicago police.
She had been removed from class after pulling out her cellphone, which is against school rules. She was told to wait in another room but didn’t want to go. “I got mad and started walking around,” she told the Tribune.
A security officer started following her and eventually called police and her father. “I was mad,” the girl said. “I went to the second floor at the top of the stairs. The police came up the stairs and they was like, you need to get your coat and go to the in-school room. I was like, ‘I don’t want to go in there.’ ”
The girl said she started walking away, and one of the officers “put his hand out in front of me. He like pushed me toward the stairs. That’s when everything happened.”
She said one of the officers hit her and the other held her down with his leg. That’s when she bit one of the officers and was shocked with a Taser in the back as the three tumbled down the stairs. The girl said she pulled the Taser prongs out herself.
Her father, Laurentio Howard, said he arrived at the school to see his daughter “rolling” down a flight of stairs “with police on top of her.”
One of the officers was yelling, “She bit me, she bit me!’’ Howard recalled. The other officer had his “foot on my daughter’s stomach and her back. She couldn’t breathe. … She has asthma too.
“I don’t know how I held it together,” Howard said.
The girl was taken by ambulance to Mount Sinai Hospital and was later charged. During an initial court appearance, she was ordered to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.
A few days later, a cellphone video surfaced showing part of the struggle. The girl is seen lying on her back, hitting and kicking at the two officers on either side of her. At one point, an officer holding a yellow Taser in his right hand puts his foot on her leg to keep her from kicking while the other officer tries to grab her arm. The three soon disappear down a stairwell.
The video was shown on several TV news shows and was eventually posted on YouTube, where it had more than 10,690 views.
On Wednesday morning, the girl appeared before the judge and, in a hearing that lasted only minutes, was told the charges were being dropped. “I feel relieved, I can get back to school,” she said, smiling.
Her attorney said Chicago Public Schools needs to find a better way to deal with confrontations involving students.
“This case is about failed leadership of the Chicago public school system, it’s about failed leadership at Marshall High School,” Stroth said. “We want schools to be a safe place where they don’t have to worry about police using excessive force.’’
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