St. Petersburg, Fla. (WFLA) – St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway says he stands behind his school resource officer who tased a student at John Hopkins Middle School.
A disturbing cell phone video circulating on social media shows the moment Officer Bobby Johnson used his taser to bring down an eighth grader, while his classmates watched in the school cafeteria. This occurred May 23.
Holloway said the cell phone video doesn’t show the whole story. He has viewed surveillance video from the school that shows what leads up to the incident. The school district, however, has not allowed the boy’s mother to see that video, citing privacy concerns of other students who may be visible in the video.
“Once you see the tape that school board has, you’re going to see the other side of the story, that the officer did do everything possible before he had to go to his taser,” Holloway said.
The boy’s mother, Lakeshia Aikens, is livid and questions why the officer used such force. She said if her son is doing something in the video that warrants the tasing, she wants to know so she can address the behavior at home.
The cell phone video shows Aikens’ son, who appears to be standing still, being tased and falling to the ground. The video also captured the sound of Johnson’s taser when it was fired.
Johnson discharged the taser a second time, but it’s unclear if the leads took.
“My son could have died,” Aikens said. “The way he hit the ground. I was like, ‘Whoa.'”
Aikens said the officer told her that her son charged at him after he threatened school administrators and that he had no choice but to use his taser. Another video may show what led up to the incident, but Pinellas County Schools won’t release it.
Aikens was told that surveillance video in the cafeteria shows more than what was recorded on a cell phone.
In a statement last week, a district spokeswoman told Better Call Behnken that school policy prohibits them from showing the video to the boy’s mother and that the officer is not an employee of Pinellas County Schools.
Pinellas County Schools does not release video taken on campus to parents as it can violate student privacy laws and/or reveal confidential and exempt safety and security information (per 1002.221, F.S. and ss. 119.071(3)(a) and 281.301, F.S.)
The School Resource Officer who deployed his taser is not an employee of Pinellas County Schools. It would be up to the St. Petersburg Police Department to determine if his actions were appropriate. Pinellas County Schools staff will work with the St. Petersburg Police Department as they review the incident.”
However, this week the district said they’ve decided to have the area superintendent who oversees this school watch this video. That person will call the mother to discuss her concerns. Meanwhile, the district says it is now looking into the practice of reviewing videos with parents.
This is after 8 On Your Side interviewed Attorney Charles Gallagher, who says the district’s legal response is flawed.
Gallagher says under the Federal Family Educational and Privacy Rights Code, the mother should be able to see the video because this incident led to discipline that is in her son’s school record.
“If there’s a privacy concern, there are alternate means to go ahead and prevent that, to pixelate or redact those other kids,” Gallagher said. “So I don’t think there’s a basis to go ahead and have a wholesale refusal to show the video to the mom.”