Beaten and Tasered at School for the Deaf, Parents Claim
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (CN) - Staff members at the American School for the Deaf chased a student into a construction site where police Tasered the boy without warning, his parents claim in Federal Court.
A.M. is a "profoundly deaf" 12-year-old resident of Bronx, N.Y., who also has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to the complaint in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.
His parents, Audley and Judith Muschette, sued the American School for the Deaf, the town of West Hartford, Conn., two West Hartford police officers and two school employees.
The complaint describes a March 2013 altercation at the school where an unknown staff member choked A.M., and threw him to the ground "without justification or cause," leading the boy to suffer "significant head injuries."
An employee of American School for the Deaf who spoke to the Muschettes about the incident described A.M.'s assailant as "E," but would not reveal the worker's full name.
A.M. allegedly had another alarming encounter at school on April 30, 2013, as the staff took food orders from the students.
"A.M. tried to place his order with staff members, however he was denied his requests," the complaint says. "A.M. then proceeded to call his parents for help through a videophone."
After talking to them for five minutes, school staffer Chris Hammond "maliciously and without provocation pulled the wires out of the videophone and disconnected the call," the Muschettes claim.
Upset that he could not longer speak to his parents, A.M. tried to flee the school. Hammond and other school employees allegedly chased the boy to a construction site on campus.
"Defendant Chris Hammond informed plaintiff that he was going to kill him and push him into an unsafe area of the construction site," the complaint says.
"Defendant Chris Hammond proceeded to grab plaintiff and punched plaintiff in the face with closed fists."
When A.M. fell to the ground, he "grabbed a stick on the ground to defend himself from attack from multiple adult staff members as this was the second time he had been assaulted and battered by ASD staff," the complaint continues.
Hammond and the others backed away, and A.M. turned his back to them.
It was dark when West Hartford police officers Paul Gionfriddo and Christopher Lyth arrived at the scene, the Muschettes claim.
The officers allegedly knew that A.M. was deaf and made no effort to communicate with the boy who had their back to them and did not know of their arrival.
"Without any warning or notice to AM., town of West Hartford police officer Paul Gionfriddo tasered A.M.," according to the complaint.
As A.M. reacted to the "burns, paralysis and pain" from the Taser barb, "police rushed him and forcibly handcuffed him," the complaint continues.
The Muschettes say A.M. was then taken to Connecticut Children's Medical Center. His back was "burned and he sustained scarring at the locations where he was hit with the taser prongs," according to the complaint.
The following June, school staff allegedly tried to "upset and harass A.M." by falsely accusing him of watching and printing pornography.
That same month the school "contacted police falsely claiming that A.M. was trying to kill himself by wrapping wires around his neck as well as stabbing himself with a pen and scissors," according to the complaint.
Doctors allegedly found "no physical evidence" of a suicide attempt or that A.M. had suicidal thoughts.
The Muschettes say that they then confronted the school and were given an ultimatum: "to take A.M. out of the school or to agree to never contract A.M. or the school while A.M. is enrolled."
They seek damages for excessive force, municipal liability, violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, negligence and other claims.
Eric Baum with Eisenberg and Baum in Manhattan represents the couple.
The American School for the Deaf emphasized in a statement through its publicists that it is protective of student and staff safety.
"Regarding the incident, we acted appropriately according to our policies and the laws set forth by the state," the school said. "When it was determined that the student's behavior posed a threat to himself and others, the West Hartford Police were called. Once the police arrived, they took control of the situation. Our staff remained in the area to provide appropriate support to the student involved."