Tear Gas From Arizona Prison Drifts Onto Grade School

PHOENIX (CN) — Families of 19 children sued Arizona this week after state prison officials used tear gas in a training exercise at a Florence prison and it drifted over dozens of first- and third-graders on a school playground.

Jane Roe 1 et al. sued Governor Doug Ducey, Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan and prison Warden Kevin Curran on Tuesday in Maricopa County Court.

The Department of Corrections held a training exercise on Feb. 15, 2017 at its prison in Florence, 63 miles southeast of Phoenix, using tear gas. “Volatile winds” spread the gas through the neighborhood, including Florence Elementary School.

“Many children, including the named plaintiffs, thought they were going to die from the exposure,” the complaint states.

The gas, 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile, commonly known as CS gas, is used in prisons for inmate crowd control.

When the gas reached Florence Elementary, first- and third-graders were playing on the playground.

“Within a few minutes, the children reported burning eyes and throats. They screamed and cried desperately attempting to get the attention of teachers, or medical personnel,” according to the complaint.

At least 25 students were medically evaluated that day due to the exposure.

The children reported eye irritation, nausea, chest pain, panic and suffocation. Jane Doe 10 “experienced side effects so severe, that paramedics provided heightened monitoring in order to prevent heart failure.”

After the fiasco, prison officials said it was “the first time that tear gas used in exercises traveled off of the property,” and said they immediately took action “to effectively prevent the incident from happening in the future.”

“Ultimately, prison officials admitted failure to check weather conditions prior to the tear gas grenade explosion played a significant role in the harm the children experienced,” the complaint states.

The families seek general and special damages for battery, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They are represented by Don Cartier of Phoenix and Mark Willimann of Tucson.

The Arizona Department of Corrections does not comment on pending litigation.

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