Arrested & Beaten for Dozing in Class
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) - After a diabetic high school student fell asleep in study hall, the school police officer slammed her face into a filing cabinet, arrested her and took her to jail, she claims in court.
Tieshka Avery claims she was so violently abused that she vomited in the police car.
And all because she fell asleep reading "Huckleberry Finn."
(Public school districts in the South have been accused of operating de facto "school to jail" programs, targeting minority students for arrest for minor infractions. The ACLU and the federal government have filed lawsuits alleging the practice. See below.)
Ashlynn Avery and her mother Tieshka Avery sued the City of Hoover, its Police Department and Board of Education, police Officer Christopher Bryant, and school employees Don Hulin and Joshua Whited, in Federal Court.
On May 3, 2011, "Ashlynn Avery was in Hoover High School's In-School Suspension (ISS) for what was termed 'skipping class,'" the complaint states.
"While in ISS, Ashlynn was assigned to read 'Huckleberry Finn.'
"As a result of a combination of Ashlynn's chronic medical conditions, including sleep apnea, Type II diabetes, and asthma, Ashlynn dozed off during ISS.
"Joshua Whited, the ISS supervisor, noticed that Ashlynn had dozed off, walked to her cubicle and struck the cubicle with his hand, causing the cubicle to hit Ashlynn's head, waking her up.
"Ashlynn returned to reading 'Huckleberry Finn.'
"Once again, Ashlynn dozed off.
"While she was sleeping, Whited took the book from her, slammed the book onto the desk, causing the book to bounce and hit Ashlynn in the chest."
Ashlynn claims she was told to leave the room, and called her mother, and that "while Ashlynn was hysterical, speaking with her mother and walking down the hall, Officer Christopher Bryan [sic], who was behind her, made aggressive contact against her by slapping her backpack."
The complaint continues: "Ashlynn, not knowing who was behind her, said 'Leave me alone'.
"While still on the phone with her mother, Officer Bryant proceeded to shove Ashlynn face first into a file cabinet and handcuff her.
"Ashlynn was taken to the police station.
"On the ride to the police station, Ashlynn, due to her emotional state, vomited in the car."
Ashlynn was taken to the Children's Health Center Emergency Department, and "while diagnosis showed no acute fractures, treatment included immobilization of her right arm with a cast, which she was required to wear for approximately one month," the complaint states.
"As a result of her injuries, Ashlynn required follow-up care to her shoulder, arm, and wrist, Ashlynn also required extended mental counseling for trauma caused by the defendants."
In October 2012, the federal government sued the city of Meridian, Miss., among others, claiming that it operates a "school-to-prison" pipeline, hauling students off to juvenile detention centers for offenses such as disrespect and profanity.
A fact sheet in a PBS article in March this year states that the "school-to-prison" pipeline is a growing concern not only in the South, but across the nation, with new, zero-tolerance policies disproportionately affecting blacks and other minorities.
PBS reported that "70 percent of students involved in 'in-school' arrests or referred to law enforcement are black or Latino" and that "black students are three and half times more likely to be suspended than whites."
The Averys seek compensatory and punitive damages for civil rights violations, battery and negligent supervision and hiring.
They are represented by Virginia Applebaum, in Calera, Ala.
CORRECTION: The original version of this article incorrectly reported the filing date and defendants of the government's complaint about the "school-to-prison" pipeline. While Meridian is a defendant to the October 2012 complaint, the city's school district is not. Courthouse News regrets the error.