EUSTIS, Fla. (WESH) – A video posted to social media shows a Florida school resource officer using a taser on a female student in the Eustis High School cafeteria.
The chaotic scene, which unfolded Tuesday, was captured on video by a number of witnesses.
The Lake County Sheriff’s Office said Master Deputy Billy Brown was attempting to break up a fight between two students in the cafeteria at lunchtime at Eustis High School 9th Grade Center. According to law enforcement, when the deputy tried to break up the fight the 15-year-old girl turned her aggression toward him.
“This deputy was struck over 18 times total between being on the floor and when he was standing up,” said sheriff spokesman, Sgt. Fred Jones.
Jones said the deputy was trying to calm the girl down before ultimately using his taser.
“She comes back toward him in an aggressive manner like she’s going for the student she’s trying to get or coming at him. And that’s when he deployed his taser,” said Jones. “We can see by watching the entire video that he was within policy. He showed a lot of restraint.”
According to the department, Deputy Brown is at home recovering from an injured elbow from the scuffle but otherwise would have been back at the school working.
The state attorney’s office is investigating the situation. Walter Forgie, the chief assistant state attorney for the 5th Judicial Circuit, said after reviewing video of the incident, it is clear the deputy’s actions were lawful. Forgie added that Deputy Brown made multiple attempts to deescalate the situation.
Forgie said the State Attorney’s Office will likely file criminal charges against the student including resisting a law enforcement officer with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer. He said the entirety of the video shows the student allegedly strike the deputy repeatedly with both a closed fist and open hand.
“He used the least amount of force necessary to quell that incident,” said Sgt. Jones.
It’s the second time this week the use of force by a school resource officer has garnered attention in Central Florida.
Earlier this week, the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the body slam by a school resource officer on a female high school student who appears to lose consciousness after her head hits the concrete.
State representative Carlos Guillermo Smith is calling for action.
“I guess I was just shocked and also saddened that this is becoming such commonplace in our public schools that we’re seeing use of force by a school resource officers especially against students of color,” said Smith.
Smith cosponsored legislation last year calling for specific de-escalation training for juveniles for school resource officers and implicit bias training, but the bill died in Congress.
“I don’t know how much it played a part, but the evidence speaks for itself. We know that Black and brown students are disproportionately more likely to be involved in a situation with a school resource officer where the use of force is involved, whether it be justified, allowed or not justified and not allowed,” he said. “The point isn’t whether or not it was allowed to be used against her, but should it have been used against her which I think this is the real question.”
Sgt. Jones said he personally trained the deputy involved and said this was not caused by bias.
“You can look at the cover and say this is why this is happening. But open the book and see what it is,” Jones said. “As one of the overseers of this agency, been a sergeant over internal affairs, we won’t allow that to happen here. If it does happen because we do hire from that same pod of people called humans, if it does happen, those people would not be working here anymore.”
Jones said all school resource officers go through 40 hours of training with a psychologist on juvenile behavior and 40 hours of de-escalation training.
“These are probably some of our most trained deputies in the agency when it comes to that,” he said.
According to the department, this is Deputy Brown’s first year as an SRO. He has been with the sheriff’s office since 2006 and does not have any other incidents on his record.
“I called [Deputy Brown] this morning,” said Jones. “He was devastated he had to do that. Even though we told him you are within policy. He goes, ‘I know but I didn’t want to do it. I was hoping she’d listen to me. I was hoping she’d deescalate.'”
The student was processed at juvenile detention on Tuesday, according to the incident report. Before she was brought in, Jones said she apologized to the deputy.
“She goes, ‘I didn’t realize it was you. I was so angry. I was in a rage. I actually like you, I think you’re a cool deputy.’ That’s the conversation they had before she was transported to jail,” Jones said.
The video above has been blurred because the student involved has not been charged as well as to protect the identity of other students in the cafeteria.