• Thu, Dec 8 2011

Policeman Pepper-Sprays 7-Year-Old Special Ed Student, Parents Settle In Court

police officerA seven-year-old special education kid living in San Mateo, California was having a very difficult day. In June of last year, the child refused to do an assignment, left the school grounds, and had to be forcibly returned to the classroom. After reentering, he threw chairs and climbed up a bookshelf at which point the teacher and a therapist called the police.

Upon not coming down from the bookshelf at the count of five, Officer George “Randy” Heald pepper-sprayed the 51 pound child. His parents have since settled in a federal lawsuit, obtaining $55,000 for their son’s ordeal.

The little boy had been diagnosed with learning difficulties, dyslexia, anxiety disorder and social-skill problems according to SFGate.com. During his exchange with the police officer, the kid was told that he would be pepper-sprayed at which point the cop explained what the chemical would do to him if he refused.

As he began the countdown, the cop maintains that the kid started to step down onto an unsteady cabinet which was only being supported by a TV set. He claims that the child needed to be removed immediately for his safety. His lawyers say that pepper-spray was the “safest and least intrusive way” to get the child down, as he had been making growling noises and “clawing” hand gestures whenever the officer approached him.

After the boy was sprayed, he was taken for psychiatric evaluation. Not surprisingly, his parents have transferred their little boy to a different school where teachers “do not resort to physical restraints or calling the police to address his emotional behaviors,” to quote his mom and dad.

However, the police department in San Mateo completely stands behind the actions of the cop, aged 50, who was mere months away from retirement at the time. Shockingly, they also say that their department has no restrictions on police officers using pepper spray with children.

Kamran Loghman, a chemical-exposure expert who assisted in crafting the use of pepper spray policies for the FBI and the state Department of Justice, called the police’s actions “an absolute absence of wisdom and intelligence.” He observes that unless the child had an extremely dangerous objection in his hand, like a gun for example, there is no reason to use pepper spray on a child. He cites the actions of dedicated parents when describing how you handle an out of control kid:

“Many of us have children who almost on a daily basis don’t listen to their parents. What do we do? Throw vinegar on them? Pepper-spray them? As adults, we have to remain adult-centered, try to be calm and take situations under control.”

A criminologist  told the publication that he doesn’t think he has ever heard of an instance in which a police officer has used pepper spray on a child. Now, we unfortunately have on example on file.

(photo: Shutterstock)
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  • Xyzzy

    That’s sickening… If nothing else, the school district should have somebody on-call that is trained in handling/calming kids during a meltdown with minimal (or no) force. Unless a child is *big* amd attacking others, calling the police is a huge waste of taxpayer dollars. (Also, how was the boy able to so easily leave in the first place?)

  • Byron

    If that kid’s last name is not Wolverine, this is absolutely preposterous. We may excuse the cop for thinking this was a young version of wolverine, transported through time and dimensions, but if it wasn’t that then the “clawing” moves the kid do shouldn’t even go through someone’s skin and a cop with 20+ years on the job should know better.

    Ah well, at least he didn’t taser him.

  • LoveyDovey

    So what would have happened if the kid got seriously injured or even died as a result of the pepper spray? Would the department still be backing this idiot?

    Geeze, what kind of sniveling wimp do you have to be to feel the need to pepper-spray a small child who is making “threatening” clawing gestures at you?

  • The Christian Aspie

    When are schools going to train teachers or get people in who know how to handle meltdowns?

    The behavior described is very common in autistic children and those diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, particularly when they are overwhelmed.

    I imagine that people were speaking in loud voices – yelling, and many people were talking at once. There was likely a lot of activity in the room (especially if no one had had the good common sense to remove the other children from the room). It was probably pretty chaotic which would add to the sensory overload.

    You don’t yell at a child who is melting down or overwhelmed. You lower the lights, remove all distractions, remove as many other people as possible and make it very quiet. You speak in low, calm tones. It is so simple.

    Poor little guy. I know what it feels like to be overwhelmed.

    The sad thing is, too many neurotypical people don’t want to try to understand. They just don’t care.

  • Beth

    Its ridiculous that the San Mateo police department still stood by the cop’s actions! This leads me to wonder that if I were a parent and my child was hitting or kicking at me if I could pepper spray them without it being considered child abuse. I doubt it.