(CN) – A federal judge ruled that two Connecticut police officers must go to trial on a mother’s claims they used excessive force by deploying a stun gun on her teenage son until he foamed at the mouth for taking a beef patty from the high school cafeteria without paying.
Z.J. was a high school student in Middletown, Conn., in September 2010 when he took a beef patty from the school cafeteria without paying, according to court records.
When the cashier asked Z.J. if he paid for the patty, Z.J. said no and put the patty into her hand. This provoked an argument, and Z.J. eventually called the cashier a “bitch,” prompting her to call a security officer.
Z.J. protested that he should not have to go to the security office since he returned the patty, but police officer Kurt Scrivo approached and told Z.J. to go with the security officer.
Scrivo then placed his hand on Z.J.’s shoulder to escort him out of the cafeteria, but Z.J. said, “Let me go, I can walk by myself. I’m not a little boy.”
The officer let go, but two seconds later he tackled Z.J. to the ground and attempted to pull the teen’s hands behind his back.
Another officer, Alex Rodriguez, saw Scrivo struggling with Z.J. from three to five car lengths away.
He immediately approached with his Taser out and deployed the weapon at Z.J. at least six times, while saying “who’s the bitch now,” court records show. Z.J. blacked out while he was being stunned and foamed at the mouth.
The boy’s mother, Tanya Jackson, sued the city of Middleton, Rodriguez and Scrivo for violating her son’s civil rights, and U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Meyer ruled Friday that the police officers must go to trial on Jackson’s excessive-force claim.
The judge rejected their argument that the mother’s lawsuit should be dismissed because her son suffered no serious injury.
“An objectively reasonable officer could not have plausibly believed in September 2010 that he was at liberty to gratuitously inflict force and pain on a high school student so long as he took care to refrain from leaving the student with a lasting injury,” Meyer said.
Scrivo’s police report indicates that he saw Rodriguez approach with the Taser in his hand, so the officer may be liable for not telling Rodriguez that there was no cause to deploy the weapon at the teen, the court ruled.
Further, “If Z.J.’s account of what happened to him at the cafeteria is true, a jury could easily conclude that any reasonable person would feel a great degree of emotional distress,” Meyer said, even if the teen did not seek counseling after the incident.