Our Pledge To You

Columnists

Dropped charges in Marshall High tasing case sends dangerous message

Dnigma Howard (center) leaves the Cook County Juvenile Center on Feb. 6 with her father Laurentio Howard (left) and attorney Andrew M. Stroth after charges were dismissed against her.

Dnigma Howard (center) leaves the Cook County Juvenile Center on Feb. 6 with her father Laurentio Howard (left) and attorney Andrew M. Stroth after charges were dismissed against her. | Matthew Hendrickson / Sun-Times

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx didn’t shed much light on the violent episode between a Marshall High School student and two Chicago police officers when she dropped felony charges against the 16-year-old girl that was tased.

But the circumstances surrounding this incident are troubling, and two felony counts would have put the 16-year-old on a dead-end path.

Tandra Simonton, chief communications officer for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, said, “After a review of the evidence, we concluded that in the interest of justice, we will not pursue charges.”

Still, if the allegations that the teen spit, punched and kicked police officers are true, there should have been some accountability for the teen, and not just for the police.

Understandably, Dnigma Howard is a special education student shouldering a lot more than a book bag.

Her father, Laurentio Howard, acknowledges that Dnigma had problems in school before and that her troubles “stem from family issues that include her mother currently being incarcerated and the loss of an older brother who died from an asthma attack when he was 13.”

That’s a heavy burden for anyone to carry, but especially for a teenager trying to navigate high school.

When police attempted to remove Dnigma from school after she was suspended on Jan. 29, the incident turned into a violent tussle between the teen and two Chicago police officers, one of them a female, who were stationed at the high school.

The police officers used a stun gun on the teen, who allegedly kicked, bit and spat on the two officers, causing the three of them to tumble down a flight of stairs.

Frankly, it is a miracle that no one was seriously injured.

The violence played out in front of the girl’s father and was captured on video by another student.

Dnigma was initially charged with two counts of aggravated battery, and was banned from the school.

Later, CPS officials announced that the officers involved would no longer work at the school, and that the Officer of the Inspector General would review the matter.

Meanwhile, a lawyer for the teenager is preparing a civil suit against CPS, school administrators and the Chicago Police Department, alleging “police used excessive force when they punched the teen and used a stun gun on her while attempting to remove her from the school.”

After a hearing at Cook County Juvenile Court, Dnigma acknowledged she was “wrong,” but did not apologize for her behavior.

“I’m still irritated,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I was wrong on my part, but when they [hit me] I had no other way to react.”

Needless to say, the Fraternal Order of Police is outraged, and is accusing Foxx of “refusing to protect police officers.”

Foxx, a vocal proponent of criminal justice reforms, has been under fire from law enforcement groups over some of her initiatives, including a decision to raise the dollar threshold for felony retail theft.

If there was ever a case that needed to go to the much-touted Youth & Police Healing Circles — a main component of the restorative justice movement — it was this one.

The experimental court operates on the West Side in North Lawndale, but residents must be between the ages of 18 and 26, have been charged with a nonviolent felony or misdemeanor and accept responsibility for the harm caused.

Obviously, in this incident, there seems to be enough blame to go around.

And while this case will probably end with a monetary settlement, what will the police response be when another high school student refuses to leave the building?

This incident calls for a thorough review of procedures across CPS.

Removing police officers from schools isn’t the answer; because, unfortunately, in some schools disciplinary problems are so common, administrators need police officers to protect teachers and students.

Additionally, this violent episode shows the lack of respect some young people have for police authority, and why the relationship between the youth and the Chicago police desperately needs fixing.

It is clear the officers involved were ill-equipped to deal with this situation.

But for this teen to walk away without facing any consequences for her role in this debacle sends the message to other students that her behavior was acceptable.

It wasn’t.

This dismissal is also a disservice to both CPS and the police officers they depend upon to keep the peace. But even worse, the dismissal means Dnigma isn’t likely to get the help she needs to cope with her challenging life.