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Committee OKs $300K settlement to former CPS special needs student Tased by cops at Marshall HS

The settlement in the case of Dnigma Howard brings a costly end to the January 2019 incident that became a flashpoint, dramatically altering the role of CPD officers assigned to Chicago Public Schools.

Single dad Laurentio Howard and his daughter, Dnigma Howard, 18, stand outside their Near North Side home on Saturday, June 20, 2020. Dnigma was 16 when she was shoved down the stairs and Tased by Chicago police officers stationed within Marshall Metropolitan High School in a January 2019 incident that drew national headlines. She recently graduated from her CPS school.
Single dad Laurentio Howard and his daughter, Dnigma Howard, 18, outside their Near North Side home earlier this year. At 16, she was shoved down the stairs and Tased by Chicago police officers stationed at Marshall Metropolitan High School. She graduated from the school in June.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago taxpayers will spend $300,000 to compensate a former 16-year-old special needs student Tased and wrestled down a flight of stairs by police officers at Marshall High School after refusing to put away her cellphone during a test.

On Monday, the City Council’s Finance Committee approved the settlement to Dnigma Howard, bringing a costly end to the January 2019 incident that became a flashpoint, dramatically altering the role cops assigned as “school resources officers” play in Chicago Public Schools.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeff Levine told aldermen Howard was “instructed to leave the school” that day for refusing to put away her cell phone during a test, then throwing the phone down.

School administrators and security officers “could not get her to leave” and called her father, who arrived to pick up his daughter shortly before school resource officers arrived to begin their shift, Levine said.

“Security asked them to escort plaintiff to the first floor because she was suspended. At the second floor, the officers approached the plaintiff. … They informed her that she was suspended and that her father was there to pick her up. Plaintiff objected and stated that she was ‘not going anywhere.’ At that point, an altercation occurred,” Levine told aldermen.

“School video camera captures plaintiff making a turning movement away from the officers. At this point, one of the officers initiated physical contact with her by grabbing her in a bear hug to bring her down the stairs. Essentially, they sledded down the second floor stairs to a landing and then again down a second set of stairs from the landing to the first floor with the video showing the plaintiff being pulled down by her leg, [with] the other officer sliding down on her stomach.”

Levine noted Howard was arrested and “charged with misdemeanor and felony offenses, but those charges were dismissed one week later” by the state’s attorney’s office.

“Since the time of this case, the Chicago Police Department has modified their orders regarding the role of school resource officers to provide that they are only to physically engage with students in the event of criminal conduct. And the two officers at issue are no longer serving as school resources officers,” Levine said.

Howard filed a federal lawsuit accusing the school resource officers of excessive force.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) said the Howard incident “goes to the heart of the fact that” CPD officers do not belong in public schools.

“It’s a ‘no-win’ situation that could easily be handled by allowing students to stay until classes ended and then remove their privileges from entering the grounds the next day without having all of this play out.

“It causes trauma to the student, unnecessary injuries to the officers all because they came in to enforce an unenforceable situation. It’s sad all around,” Cardenas said. “I’m glad they amended their policies. But I think they should just extricate themselves from these situations altogether.”

Footage from school security security cameras obtained by the Sun-Times last year appeared to show Chicago police officers Sherri Tripp and Johnnie Pierre shove Howard toward a stairwell without provocation, then drag her down the stairs by her leg before shocking her with a stun gun and placing her under arrest.

Howard was not allowed to talk to the assistant principal or a counselor at the school, which was a violation of her Individualized Education Program, a contract between the school and a student with special needs.

Both officers were later removed from their assignments at the school following public outrage at the incident, which also reignited a debate in the city about the training and oversight of police in schools and whether officers should be assigned to schools at all.

After being wrestled down the stairs and Tased, an officer aggressively pointed and screamed at Howard’s father who arrived to pick her up.

“Did you see what your daughter just did to us?” a visibly upset police officer yelled, according to body cam footage from another cop who responded to the incident. “Your daughter is going to jail.”

This summer, the Chicago Board of Education voted to renew its contract with the Chicago Police Department — but at half the cost of the previous agreement — after a handful of schools voted to remove police officers from their schools.

Dnigma Howard graduated in May.

The Howard settlement was one of three approved by the Finance Committee.

A $295,000 settlement stemmed from an illegal strip-search. And a $162,500 settlement goes to a man who spent six month in jail and one year on electronic monitoring only to have his charges, for unlawful possession of a firearm, dropped.

Contributing: Matthew Hendrickson and Nader Issa