Four Birmingham School Resource Officers, or SROs, have been named in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The suit's claim: that the officers use too much mace on high school students across the city and that by doing so, they are violating students' 4th amendment rights.
"Right now, SROs have broad use of mace in Birmingham city school and that needs to be reigned in," said SPLC lead attorney Ebony Howard on Tuesday. "Our goal is to get a policy in place that make sure kids aren't being maced for being kids."
The suit names not only the SROs but also the Birmingham Board of Education, Superintendent Craig Witherspoon and Police Chief A.C. Roper as parties. Tuesday, both sides appeared before Federal Judge Abdul Kallon as the SPLC requested their case receive class action certification. Their suit lists the complaints of several individual students who claim to have been directly maced by an SRO. Howard says in the last five years, close to 100 Birmingham students have been the victim of that. She points to the case of a Woodlawn High School student only identified as "KB". That student claims that when she was four months pregnant, a male student teased her to the point it left her crying in the hall. She says that's when an SRO approached her about the matter, he maced her.
"When she wouldn't calm down, he put her in handcuffs," Howard says. "And when she still wouldn't stop crying he took out his mace and sprayed her while she was 4 months pregnant and in handcuffs."
Howard goes on to say that when pepper spray or mace is used, it adversely affects all students in the area. And that is why the SPLC is seeking a class action certification. Howard says that would cover all current and future Birmingham high school students. "Right now, SROs have broad use of mace in Birmingham schools and that needs to be reigned in."
The SPLC is asking that the SROs have more training and that the policy that outlines when mace can be sued be modified. They are also asking for more stringent selection process of SROS. Defense attorneys say the training officers receive is already adequate and that when it comes to when to use mace, every situation is judged on a case by case basis.
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