Police Sued for Tasering Deaf Boy

Police Officer With Taser

According to an article in the West Hartford Patch, a lawsuit was filed on September 11, 2013 against two West Hartford, Connecticut police officers, the town of West Hartford and two staff members at the American School for the Deaf.   They are being sued because of an incident which occurred in April of 2013 in which a 12-year-old boy who is completely deaf and has attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder was Tasered.

The suit describes physical abuse that occurred against the boy prior to the Tasering.   In the month of March, it states that staff members threw the boy – referred to only as A.M. in court documents – on the ground, causing “significant head injuries” and frightening him.  Then, on April 30, the day the Tasering incident occurred, the boy was denied food that he had requested.  And, when he tried to make a videophone call to his parents, a staff member named Chris Hammond “pulled the wires out of the videophone and disconnected the call.”

The suit claims that A.M. became upset when he was not able to speak with his parents and ran away to a construction site near the school, where he was followed by staff.  It is alleged that the boy grabbed a stick to protect himself after Hammond punched him in the face.

Two West Hartford police officers – Paul Gionfriddo and Cristopher Lyth – were called to assist, according the suit.  Gionfriddo is alleged to have Tasered A.M. while he was “sitting calmly” with his back towards the officer.

The prongs of the Taser are said to have hit A.M. in the back and buttocks “causing burns, paralysis and pain” as the boy’s body hit the ground and the officer rushed in to handcuff him.  He was treated for his injuries at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford.

The suit further alleges that the school attempted to get revenge against the boy in June by accusing him of watching and printing pornographic materials.  It also claims that the school falsely reported to police that the boy was suicidal, trying to strangle himself with the wires on his videophone and stab himself.   However, the boy’s father says that medical personnel told him there was no physical evidence that a suicide attempt had occurred.

According the complaint, on June 26 the school staff told the parents that they had a choice of either removing their son from school or agreeing to never contact him or staff while he was enrolled there.

The police incident report, however, tells a very different tale, describing A.M. as being about five feet six inches and weighing 140 pounds and behaving violently  Gionfriddo wrote in his report that the boy “had attacked staff with a chair, a stick, attempted to bite staff and threw rocks at staff.”  He also stated that as he and his partner approached the scene, A.M. was holding a large rock that he refused to put down, even after staff told him two times in sign language to that he should.  Gionfriddo says that he concluded, based upon the circumstances and the boy’s history of violent behavior, that Tasering the boy was necessary.

In his statement, Gionfriddo wrote that Hammond told him the boy became upset when he wasn’t allowed to order another cookie from McDonald’s so he began to wrap the wires of his videophone around his neck.  When a staff member took the wires off, A.M. grabbed a chair and a stick and ran out of the building to the construction site.  When the staff members followed him, A.M. hit Hammond repeatedly with a stick and threw rocks at the staff members.

Gionfriddo confirmed in his report that Hammond did sustain injuries to his arms and hands from being hit with the stick.  He also received three blows to his torso from rocks thrown by the boy.

The West Hartford Patch notes that Marilyn Rettig, the director of institutional advancement for the American School for the Deaf has not yet made any comment about the school’s being sued over the boy’s Tasering.  They were also unable to obtain a statement from the police.

Written by:  Nancy Schimelpfening

West Hartford Patch

 

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