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California: Cop Blasts 7-Year-Old Special Ed Student with Pepper Spray; San Mateo Pays $55,000 to Settle Federal Lawsuit

In December 2011, San Mateo (California) officials agreed to pay $55,000 to settle a federal lawsuit filed by the family of a 7-year-old special education student who, in June 2010, was pepper-sprayed by a police officer when he climbed on top of a cabinet in his classroom and refused to come down.

A teacher and therapist at George Hall Elementary School in San Mateo had called the police when they were unable to deal with the unruly behavior of the 7-year-old, identified in court papers as Adam G. After the incident, the boy's parents transferred him to a different school.

Kamran Loghman, a chemical-agent expert who helped develop policies on the use of pepper spray by the FBI, characterized the decision to use pepper spray on a child as displaying "an absolute absence of wisdom and intelligence." He added, "Many of us have children who almost on a daily basis don't listen to their parents. What do we do? Throw vinegar on them? Pepper-spray them? As adults, we have to remain adult-centered [and] try to be calm."

Invoking what seems to be common sense, Loghman explained, "You don't use a weapon on a child unless he ha[s] something that is extremely dangerous in his hand, that may cause death to himself or others, like a gun."

The officer who made the decision to use pepper spray, George "Randy" Heald, defended his actions as necessary for the child's safety, according to the attorneys who filed the lawsuit. He retired nine months later.

The lawsuit settlement requires the police, as well as school and county officials, to develop policies delineating the circumstances under which it would be appropriate to call the police to deal with student misconduct. Source: Henry K. Lee, San Francisco Chronicle, Dec, 8, 2011.

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