The family of a 12-year-old boy known only as “A.M.” in court documents is suing police, the American School for the Deaf and the city of Hartford, CT over allegations that police unnecessarily Tasered the boy after school officials abused him and denied him food. According to the Courthouse News Service, the student ran away from the school to a construction site to escape staffers who had beaten and choked him, and it was there that police Tasered the boy, who is “profoundly deaf,” with no warning.
Court records say that A.M. was involved in a scuffle with a school staff member in March of this year in which the staffer choked the boy — who has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) — and threw him to the ground, resulting in “significant head injuries.”
Then in April, school officials declined to take the boy’s food order when other students were placing theirs. According to the complaint filed by A.M.’s parents, Audley and Judith Muschette, “A.M. tried to place his order with staff members, however he was denied his requests. A.M. then proceeded to call his parents for help through a videophone.”
After five minutes of conversation between the boy and his family, a school staff member named Chris Hammond reportedly “maliciously and without provocation pulled the wires out of the videophone and disconnected the call.”
A.M., frustrated and upset that he was being denied contact with his parents, fled the building. At a construction site on the ASD campus, he came face to face with Hammond and other staffers, who attempted to violently subdue him, according to the complaint.
“Defendant Chris Hammond informed plaintiff that he was going to kill him and push him into an unsafe area of the construction site,” said the suit. “Defendant Chris Hammond proceeded to grab plaintiff and punched plaintiff in the face with closed fists.”
The boy reportedly picked up a stick to defend himself against Hammond and the other adult staffers. They retreated from the scene and left A.M. sitting by himself with his back to the school.
Police arrived at the construction site after dark. Knowing the boy was deaf, they allegedly made no effort to warn or communicate with him, but Tasered him from behind. As A.M. writhed on the ground from the “burns, paralysis and pain” caused by the Taser barbs, the two police officers rushed him and placed him in handcuffs.
He was taken to Connecticut Children’s Hospital and treated for electrical burns.
Then in June, school officials allegedly trumped up false charges against A.M. of “watching and printing pornography” on school computers. They said that A.M. was threatening suicide, wrapping wires around his throat and stabbing himself with sharp objects.
Doctors found no signs of the alleged suicide attempts or any indication that A.M. had been having suicidal thoughts. When the Muschette family confronted school officials, they were given an ultimatum, said the complaint.
They were ordered, they said, “to take A.M. out of the school or to agree to never contract A.M. or the school while A.M. is enrolled.”
Audey and Judith Muschette are suing ASD, two individual staff members, the city of Hartford, and Paul Gionfriddo and Christopher Lyth, the two West Hartford police officers who made the decision to Taser the boy. The Muschettes are suing for damages over excessive use of force, municipal liability, violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, negligence and other claims.
The complaint was filed with the U.S. District Court for the State of Connecticut. The Muschettes are being represented by Eric Baum of Manhattan law firm Eisenberg and Baum.
Calling the abuse allegedly meted out to A.M. “horrific,” Baum said, “No child in a school’s care should be beaten [or] tormented. What happened to my client is every parent’s worst nightmare.”
The police report drawn up by Officer Gionfriddo painted a different picture of A.M.’s conduct, the Patch reported.
The boy, who is approximately 5’6″ and 140 pounds “had attacked staff with a chair, a stick, attempted to bite staff and threw rocks at staff.” At the construction site where he fled, the police said, A.M. “was now holding a large rock that he refused to put down…I advised staff to communicate with [A.M.] via sign language to cooperate and drop the rock. A.M. was asked two times to comply and drop the rock and he refused.”
Marilyn Rettig, a spokesperson for ASD, refused to comment on the lawsuit except to say, “We are cooperating with the local authorities. The health and safety of our students is our No. 1 priority.”
This week, the school is unveiling a new $20 million, 62,000-square-foot building called the Gallaudet-Clerc Education Center. The opening ceremony is set to take place on Tuesday.
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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