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Sheriff, Citing Head-Butting Incident, Asking School Board to Let Tasers Back on Campus

| September 20, 2011

Not exactly as non-lethal as law enforcement claims.

Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming wants his School Resource Deputies (SROs) to be armed with Tasers again. He’ll be making that request to the school board this evening by way of David O’Brien, the acting under-sheriff—and reopening a controversial debate dating back to 2005.

“I’m not going to make it a mandatory issue with the school board,” Fleming said today, but he will recommend Tasers’ return. “We’ve looked at other counties.  Putnam and St. Johns have Tasers in the schools, they don’t have any issues with it, it’s just another tool that deputies can use.”

Fleming is likely to have more support from the board this time than he did in 2005.

“I’ve not yet heard all of the data I need to hear on it to make my final recommendation, but I do feel that I have a duty to ensure the safety of all the students,” Superintendent Janet Valentine said, noting various discussions with SROs, the sherifff, school administrators and others leading to a consensus on allowing Tasers. “I do think there’s some indication that it may be one of the safer things to have in case of an emergency.”

The catalyst for the discussion this time is the Aug. 29 incident at Matanzas High School. Two students were fighting, including a big 16-year-old boy who, when Don Apperson, the SRO on duty, intervened, head-butted and injured him in the head. “Here again we come down to the fact that the young man the other day was bigger than the sergeant, he was a karate student, he overpowered the sergeant, and you had a couple of hundred kids standing around right in the hallway there.”

That situation would have warranted the use of a Taser, Valentine said, because itt had risen to the level of an emergency. “An emergency to me is anything that puts other students and staff in danger, in extreme danger,” Valentine said.

The return of Tasers is making parents nervous—particularly parents who have or have had special-needs children in the districts—students with autism, for example, or a variety of disabilities that entail unexpected behavior cops aren’t necessarily trained to pick up, understand or distinguish from those of other students.

“If my son was in school, I would be terrified of it,” Christina Pinto, whose son has since graduated, said. “I think it would just be a quick reaction instead of trying to sit down and reason with them. It would be a quick issue of let’s just tase them. I understand that the deputies need to consider their safety and the safety of others. Me as a parent, I would say, we need to really think this through before we allow those Tasers back in there.” Weaponry as a whole is a problem in schools, including pepper spray and guns, Pinto said, each with potentially severe consequences.

Taser Demonstration

“We’re all just scared because it’s not an easy road for any of us on a good day,” says Kate Settle, the parent of a student with special needs in the district, and a former member of the district’s special education advisory group. Settle has been in contact with other district parents over the issue, many of whom are echoing the same unease and fear of situations being misinterpreted, leading to unintended consequences. “I just think it’d be a big mistake. I don’t think the SROs are sensitive to special needs kids.”

In 2005, Fleming, as a new sheriff, asked that Tasers be part of SROs’ arsenal. The board strongly rejected the proposal after a public outcry that included formal opposition from the NAACP and tough words from board members. “I am not prepared to use a Taser on a student unless I can stand up and have one hit me,” Evelyn Shellenberger, who served on the board until last year, said at the time. “I personally am not ready for that.”

Fleming agreed to comply with the board’s wishes, verbally. Yet two years later, Scott Vedder, a deputy assigned to Flagler Palm Coast High School, used a Taser on Laurence Gibson, then a 16-year-old special-education student who’d been having trouble doing his work, and who began acting out after his teacher corrected him. The room was empty but for Gibson: no other students were in danger. Gibson didn’t follow commands from administrators. And he disobeyed Vedder’s command to sprawl on the floor, at which point, after being warned that he would use the Taser, Vedder fired it into the student. Tasers fire a massive shock of electricity through the body, producing sudden, extreme and immobilizing pain. (See the accompanying video.)

It was never clear why the Taser was on campus to start with, since the sheriff had agreed not to arm his SROs with them, though deputies, then as now, always had the option of calling in additional deputies with any requested weaponry, including Tasers.

Then-Superintendent Bill Delbrugge subsequently and repeatedly referred to that incident with regret: it was mishandled by the deputy and by his administration—himself included, he said, when he tried to downplay the incident instead of recognizing it as an error from the start: the tasing had been unnecessary. Again, the sheriff pledged not to have Tasers on campus.

But the school board today has three members who weren’t there in 2007: Andy Dance, Trevor Tucker and John Fischer. Colleen Conklin and Sue Dickinson were there then and still are. Dickinson was supportive of Tasers when first proposed in 2005. Conklin has been opposed all along.

“My greatest concern is you have a gun,” she told a sheriff’s Taser trainer in 2005, “you put in a whole lot of thought before you pull that gun. I am not sure how much thought process will take place before a Taser is pulled out.”

Today, Conklin said: “I understand why this issue is being brought back to us now in response to the situation that happened at Matanzas High School, but my feelings on it really haven’t changed very much. But in fairness I will be listening with an open mind. I personally feel that this is a reaction to a specific incident, and I don’t want it to be a knee-jerk reaction to that incident.” She noted the size of Flagler schools, where the sheer number of students makes it difficult for deputies to know one student from another, and therefore calibrate responses accordingly, when problems arise. “We should really be looking at and focusing on de-escalating tactics to use with students, and again, the question of what-if: what if a child has a health concern that’s been undiagnosed? There’s too many unknown what-ifs for me. But I’m really trying to go into this with an open mind and listen to the data that’s going to be presented this evening.”

Dance speaks of going into the discussion with an equally open mind, though he sees Tasers as the sheriff sees them—a deterrent that falls lower on the scale of violence than more lethal uses. “I guess there’s a progression,” Dance said. “The officers have and are trained on a variety of different tools, if you will, from the billy club, mace or pepper spray and firearms, so I think it falls within the mace and the firearms as a preventative or deterrent. I think they use them to prevent escalation of certain occurrences. I’m sure that’s what they’re going to talk about, protocol, and how they utilize each of those tools that’s available to them.”

Neither Dance nor Conklin have seen the video of the incident at Matanzas. Valentine said the video will not be released because “it is part of a student’s discipline record,” and as such, falls under exemptions to the state’s open-records law.

Law enforcement portrays Tasers as a non-lethal deterrent to violence. The U.S. Department of Justice in May released the most authoritative study to date on the use of Tasers and other so-called “conducted energy devices” (CEDs). The report estimates that 11,500 law enforcement agencies have acquired and deployed some 260,000 such devices. The study found no conclusive evidence that Tasers are a direct cause of death, particularly no likelihood of death as a result of cardiac dysrythmia (or altered heart rates because of a Taser burst). But it found that Tasers do contribute to deaths indirectly–the result being the same for the person at the receiving end a Taser burst.

“There is no conclusive medical evidence in the current body of research literature that indicates a high risk of serious injury or death to humans from the direct or indirect cardiovascular or metabolic effects of short-term CED exposure in healthy, normal, nonstressed, nonintoxicated persons,” the report concludes. “Field experience with CED use indicates that short-term exposure is safe in the vast majority of cases. The risk of death in a CED-related use-of-force incident is less than 0.25 percent, and it is reasonable to conclude that CEDs do not cause or contribute to death in the large majority of those cases.

The report also notes: “Caution is urged in using multiple or prolonged activations of CED as a means to accomplish subduing the individual. There may be circumstances where repeated or continuous exposure is required; law enforcement personnel should be aware that the associated risks are unknown and that most deaths associated with CED use involve multiple or prolonged discharges.”

The full report is below.

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31 Responses for “Sheriff, Citing Head-Butting Incident, Asking School Board to Let Tasers Back on Campus”

  1. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    “My greatest concern is you have a gun,” she told a sheriff’s Taser trainer in 2005, “you put in a whole lot of thought before you pull that gun. I am not sure how much thought process will take place before a Taser is pulled out.”

    This statement is exactly the problem with taser use anywhere, but especially in a school. Tasers were “sold” to the public as an alternative to the officer having to use their firearm, but that’s not at all how they’re being used. If taser use was held to the same standard as a firearm, then by all means carrying them, but they’re being deployed on a daily basis because the officer doesn’t feel the individual followed his/her command fast enough.

  2. Jim Guines says:

    There are moments like these when I wish i was still on the board as I would have all kinds of reasons to vote no on having tasers in the schools. I have great respect for Sheriff Flemming, but I think he is wrong on this issue. As a board member, I believe someone must draw a line. I would vote no!

  3. rdh says:

    I support the sheriff. I think some kids now days do not get any discipline at home and are dumped into the school system with whatever knowledge they get from TV or vidio games.

  4. notasenior says:

    Cops are Taser happy. Keep them out of the schools!

  5. Jim N says:

    Dr. Guines although I respect your opinion and viewpoint 95% of the time, I am appalled by your answer here. What is read between the lines is that you have no confidence in the professionalism and training of today’s Law Enforcement Officers.

    For anyone to think that a law enforcement officer in today’s society, can walk around like a bully, doing his job by broadcasting fear and hard handed tactics as his only weapon or tool, is not giving this professional the credit they are do to get to the positions they hold today.

    I hear lots of talk about the Vedder incident of 2005, but no one remembers that the officer was OUTWEIGHeD by what 50 lbs at least, not to mention the 16 year old was a full 6-8 inches taller. of cpourse you can also add in that this poor special needs student was also out of control and belligerent and had already attacked other school staff both during this incident and in the previous times there were problems with him.

    Would you have been happier if a deputy had shot the young man? I mean after all take away the tools you narrow the choices or options right? I think the tazers are an excellent alternative method that should be available to the officer doing that work. Would you rather they shoot and kill a student armed with a knife threatening another student by shooting him in the back or deploying a tazer?

    Its simple really, respect and expect that L.E.O.s are professionals, and HOLD THEM TO THAT STANDARD, don’t assume they are storm troopers, or roughnecks and refuse them the tools and decision making authority to do their jobs.

  6. W.Ryan says:

    When you can’t discipline your child in the mildest way without fear of the Police interfering and taking your kids away we want then to potentially abuse our children with taser in school??? Discipline has eroded in the home because of government interference by imposing restraints on parenting and allowing restraints to lax from what is being televised. Just because they darn the uniform doesn’t mean that proper judgement will take place. Remember rdh…just as you’ve stated above…are the Deps of this same environment as the high schoolers? Just a couple of years removed. One instance of a Dep being injured doesn’t warrent this escalation in tactics.

  7. Lin says:

    I support the Deputy carrying the less-lethal tasers. Stuff happens in schools — unfortunate, violent things. They should have every tool at their disposal.

  8. says:

    i say take the deputies out of the schools and let the educators handle the problems. having law enforcement in the schools leaves a lot to be desire about our society. dysfunctional families is one of the reasons why we have to have an leo in the hallways. in the 60’s my four years in high school i never seen a police officer in my school and i lived 10 miles outside of guines says no. than what is the answer? i am so glad that i am not an leo anymore dealing with this society that we now live in.

  9. Lin says:

    Wish that we could change society and there would be no need for officers or guns or tasers — but I’m looking at this from the vantage point of the innocent victim whether teacher or child. I would hope that there was someone with the capacity to handle the situation with more than a pen. Sure, try talking but sometimes that isn’t enough. This story seems to be from the point of view of the person commiting the offense. I wish I could live in fairyland too.

  10. Anonymous says:

    You keep referring to this as a head butting, it was not. It was 3 good solid closed fist punches to the head and a violent take down with a choke hold. I say let the SRO carry them and use them if they have to.

  11. Dudley Doright says:

    My viewpoint is that of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement Instructor on this issue. I instructed at one of the largest police academy’s in the State of Florida. One of the key points I taught to police recruits was to use only that force necessary to subdue a suspect. The operative word is necessary force. The other part of this training also included officer safety. When a police officer responds to a call they are taught to assess the situation from a safety stand point. It is no secret that many in our society have no respect for laws and law enforcement. The last thing I want to see is an law enforcement officer hurt, seriously injured or killed for engaging in a scenario that was not safe.School officials are not prepared to handle a violent and out of control student at the high school and middle school level. When an incident like this occurs, school administrators call law enforcement to handle the situation. When these officers arrive, they are armed with the tazers. Before the Flagler County School Board members vote on this, Sheriff Fleming and his training staff should give a live demonstration of a tazer. Also, keep in mind that before any officer is issued a tazer, not only are they well trained, they must themselves be tazed so they know full well the extent of this weapon’s capabilities. Use of a tazer is also a safety issue for both the suspect and the law enforcement deploying the weapon. It is also a deterent! Remember, the suspect is the one whose actions and noncompliance with directions sets themselves up for being tazed. Have there been deaths associated with the tazer? Yes, there have been. If you research this, you will find the the deaths usually were as a result of the suspect being high on meth or some other drugs that cause rapid heart beat.

  12. Liana G says:

    I am not comfortable with tasers being used on children. And this is exactly what is being proposed here. If the excuse here is that the kid was bigger than the officer and outmaneuvered him, can we have big burly officers in the schools instead?

    I keep reading incidents involving a 5 year old tasered in Miami, and the 11 year old tasered in Indiana, and the 9 year old in BC, and it goes on and on and on….and I wonder if the use of tasers in schools and against kids are out of control. How did we deal with these outbursts in schools before the invention of tasers? What kind of society have we become when we treat our kids like animals in a place of learning? What message are we sending? Please don’t….

  13. w.ryan says:

    What are the numbers to support such an action of this weapon placed in the hands of Officers in this school system. None of the supporters have numbers to support their stance. There are numbers that support the position that tasers should be avoided. What will be said when a kid is killed with this weapon, It’s in the article. I wore the uniform though be it in another state. I’ve dealt with countless situations of a violent of potentially violent nature. I didn’t have a taser. I had rational and speaking skills. We’re taking about chlldren and developing young adults. I wish you folks would stop with your hawkish nature and allow educators who want to educate handle their learning environment. I have friends in law enforcement in Flagler and I respect Sheriff Fleming immensely but this is one topic I stand opposed too.

  14. knowsalittle says:

    I would rather the deputies have non lethal forms of defense and protection than just pepper spray. Deputies are highly trained in weapons handling, as well as defensive techniques. However, these deputies are on school campuses with over 1000 students. A situation at a school, especially in a crowded cafeteria can easily escalate due to “mob mentality” and we all know teenagers can be impulsive and not always think about the possible consequences of their actions. A deputy only has a few seconds to assess a situation and take appropriate action to prevent further escalation.

    As for the situation at FPC with Deputy Vedder, there are a few details left out of this article. The room had been evacuated of other students. The student in question had been provided several opportunities to leave the room and walk to the assistant principals office. The deputy, as well as others present in the room were aware of the students disabilities. Deputy Vedder asked the student to stand up and when he refused, Deputy Vedder placed his hand on the student’s shoulder. The student then punched Deputy Vedder in the face. That was when he was instructed to lay on the floor. When he again refused, that is when the Taser was deployed.

  15. Reno says:

    Students who do not listen to “authority” most be controlled. What happen to the good old “night stick”. A good knock on the head would get a response from an unruly teenager. I say put SWAT in the schools and let them use tatical takedowns on those unruly teenagers. Throw their rear ends in jail for a few days. While your at it, throw their parents in jail too !

  16. HowStupid says:

    Great, i can just see good ol’ Barney Fife over there taxing some poor kid for one of the food fights that have happened in the past when they called the cops out to Matanzas.

  17. Jim Guines says:

    My concern is a much larger issue than we are dealing with in these comments. I have to believe in the individual student and his or her right to be a good citizen in school. I believe we make an assumption about students when we take actions like allowing lasers in school. It has not been long ago that this school system was the last to rid itself of corporal punishment by a vote of this school board, Now we want to take the step to turn over all our discipline of “Bad” students to law officers. I think as educatior, we are passing the buck! Be consistent!

  18. nina says:

    So here is a reason why it’s important to for parents to discipline their kids at home without the threat of being reported to the police. If these unruly kids were spanked by their parents when they were little, they would be less likely to need such brutal treatment as teens. Now they are grown and have no clue as to why all of a sudden they have to behave!!

  19. Michael says:

    How about we keep the tasers out and start putting the funding for our public schools back in? It’s counter-intuitive to cut back on teachers, hours, supplies, standards and the like and then beef up security. You’re just creating fires to put out.

  20. knowsalittle says:

    With all due respect to your experience as an educator and former school board member Mr. Guines, I feel your last comment is inaccurate. The majority of students in the schools are good students, however, there are those students that cause problems on a regular basis. I do not think the school system is turning over discipline to the deputies. Do you really belive a 5’3″ 125 pound teacher with only a couple years teaching experience can stop a fight in a classroom between two 6′ 180 pound boys with 22 other students egging on the fight. Let’s be realistic, the Critical Incident Training the school system uses is not that great and is highly ineffective if a smaller individual has to take control of a larger student.

    The administration is there to deal with school discipline for violating school rules. The deputy is on campus to enforce the law. Unfortuneately, Columbine, as well as other school tragedies have created a need for deputies to be on school campuses.

  21. w.ryan says:

    You really need to show me a violent school in his county. Judging from where I come from these proponents of this position of tasers in school has no real understanding of violence in schools. There isn’t enough to support this position. Being reactionary doesn’t solve anything. Our children are precious and should be treated with more compassion and less disdain. One accidental death is way too much. This contempt is the same with regard to Zero Tolerance. You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. It’s a cliche but how about giving our children more positive stimulus instead of a shot with the taser.

  22. PJ says:

    Do we need tazers?

    How do you prevent such things like a Columbine?

    How do we protect the most precious?

    You must give these tools to the well trained and only the well trained. You must allow this well trained person do their job and that includes using a tazer. You must manage this, let the Sherriff do his job put this in his hands let the responsibilities and risk fall on them.

    I would rather have a well trained officer on site when things go really bad to protect my child please be there when we need your well trained sense of trust to protect the innocent.

    Did I mention well trained five times or six times? Key words well trained ooops 7 times!

  23. ceejay says:

    Well since all of the schools especially the elementary, are now in lock down like a prison, why not have prison guards and weapons . But really are the kids now so bad that we need the cops or could they be undercover officers so they don’t intimidate students and incite violence. Yes there are hot heads but there has got to be another way to handle children other than teaching them more violence or injuring them with Tasers .

  24. Mark says:

    Howstupid: Barney Fife type deputies respond to your house at 2 am when your to scared to outside your house because you think someones hiding there. Stop wasting tax money, and let them put that back into the schools budget. Better yet, sign up to do a ride along see what its like to be working the streets of Palm Coast. Realize that its not just the quiet sleepy town that everyone makes it out to be, on the other extreme, its not LA or Vegas either.

  25. Liana G says:

    …”School-based officers should consider all options before using a Taser on a student, including what they would have done in a similar situation in the past before they were trained and equipped with a Taser, and if that course of action is an option in lieu of using the Taser on a student. “…

    Why can’t we keep the Tasers out and let them do what they would have done in the past before they were trained and equipped with a Taser? There are just TOO many documented incidents of Tasers being inappropriately used on children to justify it as a useful tool in the “use of force continuum”.

  26. Elana Lee says:

    In response to ‘knowsalittle’, Yes, a 5’4″, 120lbs. female teacher or aide certainly can verbally de-escalate a fight between much larger, stronger, violent individuals. It’s called using brains over brawn.

    I’m sure there the proposal to bring tasers into the school is based upon good intentions. However, I would caution the School Board to consider this proposal very carefully. You of all people know the population of students attending there. A soft-spoken and gentle approach will work. If you send in uniformed men with weapons, the problem students are simply going to up the ante by being better prepared with more lethal weapons than those of their perceived adversaries. Adult Student Advocates (small statured females, grandma-types) providing guidance in the hallways and cafeteria areas will solve far more behavioral issues, especially the violence/fighting than armed, uniformed guards. No big bad boy is going to disrespect grandma.

  27. w.ryan says:

    Can we reason that the right judgement in the tactics used in this head butting incident was correct? I’ve had scrapes on the streets of NY and sh%t happens. Any cop can tell you that. Would a taser have truly helped? I don’t suggest that this SRO didn’t do his due diligence in not escalating this child to his actions. The Officer did his job. Would a taser have been relevant and would the trigger be pulled and why? Injury is par for the coarse. Violence is part of what cops expect to encounter. It’s not a clean job.
    SRO’s don’t encounter the same level of violence as a patrol Dep. Sometimes you get nicked. When you are dealing with school children there should be more sensitivity to make that fact relevant. Would the convenience of detachment from physical involvement bring on the use of a taser? There are too many questions outside of the realm of reason. This is a reality. I just don’t want sh@%t to happen to my child or someone elses when the taser is used. I can see NFL Referee’s with tasers braking up a scuffle after a play. Why? Sh*#t happens!!

  28. leo says:

    What you fail to remember is that the juvenile head butted the officer first. After that initial contact the Officer is allowed to use whatever force necessary to subdue him. Which means the Officer could have hurt him badly, but chose not to. If that isn’t restraint I don’t know what is. The Force continuem is a standard that allows the Officer to always be one up on the defendant. . Good job. Officer A.

  29. Liana G says:


    …”After that initial contact the Officer is allowed to use whatever force necessary to subdue him.”

    This is exactly what we are afraid of. The setting will not impede the officer’s decision. Tasers do not belong in schools. It is one thing to use them on adults but using them on kids is CHILD ABUSE. It is this type of police brutality that tarnishes the images of LEOs and stir up public outrage and resentment toward those who also condone it.

  30. Elana Lee says:

    …”The Force continuem is a standard that allows the Officer to always be one up on the defendant. .” and this is the one that scares me. You are setting the stage for an all out war in our schools with this mindset, testosterone raging during those pre-teen and teenage years. LEO’s are not the only ones aware of the “Force Continuem Standard”, or whatever you want to call it. Any street-wise kid knows to always be “one up” on his opponent, and now the SRO’s are going to be seen as opponents, capable of inflicting painful bodily harm upon them. Certainly not all, but again, I repeat, the problem kids will become better prepared.

  31. dealingwithidiots1 says:

    tasers are better ten real guns!

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