Felony charges were dropped Wednesday against Dnigma Howard, the Marshall High School student who was tased by Chicago police officers during an incident at the school last month.
The incident, which was captured on video by another student at the school, renewed a debate about the role of police officers in Chicago Public Schools.
“I’m relieved. I’m ready to get back to school,” Dnigma, 16, told reporters after a Cook County Juvenile Court hearing.
Prosecutors had charged her with two felony counts of aggravated battery and accused her of kicking, biting and spitting on two officers stationed at the school who were trying to remove her from the school after she was suspended on Jan. 29. While she acknowledged she “was wrong” and bit an officer, she said she was responding to the aggressive actions by police.
At an initial court hearing last week, Howard was banned from the school at 3250 W. Adams St. and placed on electronic home monitoring. But later that day, CPS officials called the incident “disturbing” and announced that the officers involved would no longer work at the school.
“A good day”
On Wednesday, Howard’s attorney, Andrew M. Stroth, ripped CPS, the administration at Marshall and police.
“Today was a good day,” Stroth said. “The state has decided to dismiss the charges against Dnigma Howard and we thank god for that. This case is about failed leadership in the Chicago Public School system, about failed leadership at Marshall High School.”
Stroth accused school officials of not following an Individualized Education Program put in place for Dnigma. Such a document lays out a school’s plan for educating students eligible for special education services.
Stroth said police used excessive force when they punched the teen and used a stun gun on her while attempting to remove her from the school.
A consent decree with police approved last week by a federal judge includes particular provisions for police to follow in incidents involving students, Stroth noted. Neither officer activated their body cameras during the incident, which Stroth called “unacceptable.”
“We want our schools to be a safe place where children can get their education and not be concerned about the police using excessive force,” Stroth said.
Police union outraged
Chicago police said that Howard’s actions caused her and the two officers to fall down a flight of stairs during the incident and that Howard bit an officer, causing injuries that led the officers to be treated at University of Illinois Medical Center.
On Tuesday, police spokesman Tom Ahern said both officers were still out on medical leave and said other officers have been assigned to the school in their place.
The police union slammed the decision by prosecutors to drop the charges against Dnigma.
“The Fraternal Order of Police is shocked and outraged by the decision from the Cook County State’s Attorneys office under Kimberly Foxx to drop charges against Dnigma Howard, charged with attacking two police officers who were trying to escort Howard out of Marshall High School,” police union spokesman Martin Preib said in an emailed statement. “This decision is one more example of Kimberly Foxx’s administration refusing to protect police officers in favor of offenders.”
State’s attorney’s office spokeswoman Tandra Simonton said the decision to drop charges against Dnigma Howard was made following a review of the evidence in the case. “We concluded that in the interest of justice, we will not pursue charges and today asked the Court to dismiss the case,” Simonton said.
Dnigma’s father, Laurentio Howard, said he was pleased with the state’s decision to drop the charges against Dnigma and that he was looking forward to getting his daughter back in school, who was suspended through Wednesday.
“I’m very satisfied,” Laurentio Howard told reporters after the hearing. “This process has been stressful, but I know I have a strong support system in my family that helped us get through this whole situation.”
Even with the favorable decision, Laurentio Howard said he was still concerned about the use of police officers in the school.
“Even though I’m happy that [the officers] are gone, who’s to say it won’t happen again when new officers take their place,” Howard said before the hearing. “That’s what we want to sort out.”
Howard said he wasn’t sure if Dnigma Howard would return to Marshall or whether she would find a new school. He acknowledged last week that his daughter has had behavioral problems in school before.
Stroth said that his firm will also be assisting the family with a civil suit against CPS, Marshall High School administrators and the Chicago Police Department.