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Cops removed from Chicago school after stun gun used on student

The father of a Chicago Public Schools student says police were too aggressive when they used a stun gun on his 16-year-old daughter and punched her earlier this week at a West Side high school — and raised questions about why cops are stationed at the school in the first place.

Video of a confrontation between Chicago police officers assigned to Marshall High School, 3250 W. Adams St., and Dnigma Howard shows an officer repeatedly use a stun gun on Howard — who responded by grabbing the gun — and swinging at her with a closed fist after he and another cop tried to remove her from the school following an altercation.

“My first instinct was to protect her,” said Laurentio Howard, who witnessed most of the confrontation between his daughter and police. “But they told me to step back, so I could only watch. I told them they didn’t need to do that.

“I think it really just shows that officers like that shouldn’t be in a school,” he added — rekindling a controversy over the role and training of cops that work in schools across CPS.

Late Friday night, CPS issued a statement saying the officers involved will not return to the school.

“CPS strives to create safe and supportive learning environments for all students, and this disturbing incident has absolutely no place in our schools,” district spokesman Michael Passman said. “To ensure a thorough review of this situation is conducted, we are asking the district’s Office of the Inspector General to review the matter and we will fully support the ongoing investigation by the City’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability.”

A report from the Inspector General’s Office last year was critical of the way police officers are used in CPS schools, finding neither institution kept track of which schools the officers worked at and asserting that officers lacked specific training in how to approach conflicts with students.

CPD officials agreed to a number of reforms, including working with CPS to define the responsibilities of school resource officers as part of a wide-ranging consent decree filed in federal court that stemmed from a 2017 lawsuit, the Sun-Times reported. The consent decree, which was protested by the Chicago police union, was approved Thursday by U.S. District Judge Robert Dow.

On Friday, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said police officials “take these complaints very seriously.

“If the family feels they need to, they can file a complaint” with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which investigates alleged misconduct, he said.

The department has no specific policy on the use of stun guns against students by school resource officers, he said. A general guideline on Taser use recommends de-escalation by the officer, but allows officers to use a stun gun against “an active resistor or assailant, and only for the purpose of gaining control of and restraining the subject.”

Meanwhile, Dnigma Howard is facing two felony counts of aggravated battery in the incident.

She appeared for an initial hearing Friday in Cook County Juvenile Court, where Judge Linda Pauel ordered her placed on electronic monitoring and banned her from the school’s grounds.

Cook County prosecutors said the officers were called to escort her off the school’s premises after she was suspended Tuesday morning, but she refused to leave the building and kicked, bit and spit on the officers. Police said her actions led the three of them to fall down a flight of stairs. The officers were taken to University of Illinois Medical Center for injuries they suffered; she was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital and released.

In an interview Friday, Dnigma denied she was told to leave the building before officers grabbed her. She disputes she caused the three of them to fall, and said she only grabbed an officer’s vest after she was pushed first and both fell. She said a female police officer struck her several times, causing a cut to her face. She acknowledges biting the officer’s hand.

She was then struck with the stun gun — which her father witnessed when he was called to pick her up.

A cut on Dnigma Howard’s cheek she said she received when a Chicago police officer punched her during an incident Tuesday at Marshall High School when the officer tried to escort her off the school’s grounds. | Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

“It was embarrassing,” Dnigma said of the incident. “[Other students] were watching.”

Laurentio Howard also says he believes the school is also at fault for allowing the situation to get out of hand and not following Dnigma’s Individualized Education Program, a document that lays out a school’s plan for educating students eligible for special education services.

“They’re supposed to allow her to talk to her counselor when she asks, but when she asked, they told her he was in a meeting and she couldn’t talk to him,” Laurentio said. “Maybe she didn’t know, but the school should have made that known.”

Laurentio acknowledged that Dnigma has had problems in school before and said her troubles stem from family issues that have gotten worse since she got to high school. Dnigma’s mother is currently incarcerated at the downstate Logan Correction Center and her older brother died from an asthma attack when he was 13.

“I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt because she has no [criminal] background,” Judge Pauel told her father during Dnigma’s hearing. Turning to Dnigma, the judge said, “Show me you can do what you need to do.”

Dnigma said she was “relieved” that the judge had not ordered her held in juvenile detention.

“I’m still irritated,” she said. “The whole story [the prosecutors] said was untrue. … I was wrong on my part, but when they [hit me] I had no other way to react.”