Incident On School Bus Exemplifies Dangers Of Using Police In Schools

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Will Matthews, ACLU national, (212) 549-2582 or 2666; media@aclu.org
Nsombi Lambright, ACLU of Mississippi, (601) 573-3978; nlambright@aclu-ms.org

Incident On School Bus Exemplifies Dangers Of Using Police In Schools

ACLU Files Lawsuit Charging Police And School Officials In Mississippi With Racial Discrimination And Excessive Force Against Schoolchildren

SOUTHAVEN, MS - The
American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi today filed
a federal civil rights lawsuit charging Southaven, Mississippi police
and DeSoto County school officials with assaulting and racially
discriminating against a group of schoolchildren riding home on a
school bus.

In an egregious example of excessive
and unwarranted use of force by police against students in a school
setting, Southaven, Mississippi Police Sergeant Tomas Aguilar and
Officer Lee Holiday responded to an argument between three students on
the bus by arresting a half-dozen black students, choking and tackling
a black female student and threatening to shoot the 30 students on the
bus between their eyes. The entire incident was captured on videotape
by a surveillance camera on the front of the bus. 

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District
Court for the Northern District of Mississippi on behalf of the six
students who were arrested and their parents, names as defendants
Aguilar and Holiday, the city of Southaven, Mississippi, the DeSoto
County School District and school district bus drivers Mary Robbins and
Belinda Heyman.

"This case is a vivid and disturbing
illustration of the dangers of relying on police officers to maintain
order in public schools," said Jamie Dycus, an attorney with the ACLU
Racial Justice Program. "No sensible person handles an argument on a
school bus by having armed police officers threaten, arrest and assault
schoolchildren. What happened here was not only unlawful, but
unconscionable, and those responsible must be held to account."

On August 12, 2008, an argument
broke out between three students on a school bus taking DeSoto County
Alternative Center students home after school. Rather than simply
attempting to defuse the situation by separating the students, Robbins,
who was serving as the bus monitor for the drive home, instead called
the police and ordered Heyman, who was driving, to pull the bus over to
the side of the road.

When Holiday and Aguilar arrived on
the scene, Holiday immediately boarded the bus and verbally accosted
the children, threatening to "run all your little asses in." Without
making any determination as to whether any arrests were warranted,
Holiday arrested the two students of color involved in the argument,
telling one girl as he handcuffed her that he was going to take her
"little ass down to juvenile hall." A white student who was equally
involved in the argument was never arrested or charged by police, and
was never subjected to discipline by the school district.

Several minutes later, after Holiday
had pulled the two students he was arresting off the bus and placed
them in the back of his patrol car, Aguilar boarded the bus and
immediately began taunting the students by screaming, "You think this
is funny?" and "Who wants to try me?" Aguilar then arrested three black
students who had done nothing more than smile or laugh.

Aguilar then identified a sixth and
final black student for arrest, despite the fact she had done nothing
against the law. As she was walking off the bus in accordance with
Aguilar's orders, she said she would be calling her mother. Aguilar
responded by grabbing her by the neck, flinging her down into an empty
bus seat and using the weight of his body to subdue her by landing
forcibly on top of her. Aguilar then screamed into her face, "You don't
talk to me like that! You don't talk to me like that! Do you
understand?" Finally, Aguilar jerked the student to her feet,
handcuffed her and took her from the bus.

Aguilar re-boarded the bus several
minutes later and continued yelling at the children remaining on the
bus, at one point screaming with his hand resting on the butt of his
gun, "Y'all think this is funny? Y'all think this is funny? Wait until
you get a bullet between the eyes."

In all, six students - all of them
students of color - were arrested and ultimately charged with minor
offenses like disturbing the peace. Aguilar is currently employed as a
school resource officer at Southaven Middle School.

"The decision by the two school
district officials to involve the police in an incident that involved
nothing more serious than verbal arguing was irresponsible, and the
behavior of the police officers was reprehensible," said Kristy
Bennett, staff attorney with the ACLU of Mississippi. "There was
absolutely no justification for even a single arrest, and there is no
doubt that those who were arrested were singled out because of their
race. The actions of the officers caught on video that day are just one
more example of the problems our youth are dealing with in the school
environment. The abuse of powers rampant in our schools these days is
intolerable."

A copy of the ACLU's complaint is available online at: www.aclu.org/crimjustice/juv/39309lgl20090409.html

Additional information about the ACLU Racial Justice Program is available online at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice/index.html

Additional information about the ACLU of Mississippi is available online at: www.aclu-ms.org

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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