KERNERSVILLE, N.C. — A school resource officer who used his Taser to break up a fight at East Forsyth High School acted appropriately, Kernersville Police Chief Ken Gamble said Thursday.
But Officer James Deeney's actions prompted criticism from others and differing opinions from students.
Deeney followed the police department's use-of-force policy when he used his Taser on Chris Bloom, a 17-year-old student who was fighting with his cousin at the school on Monday, Gamble said during a news conference at the Stockton Law Enforcement Center in Kernersville.
Bloom was hit in the chest and collapsed, but he was not injured, Gamble said. He said Bloom apologized to Deeney when he returned to school.
The incident started when Bloom and Ivan Smith, also 17, began arguing in class and then went into the school's courtyard to fight, a school official has said.
Deeney followed the students outside, yelled at them to stop fighting and drew his Taser stun gun, Gamble said. Deeney then yelled "Taser," and Smith backed off.
But Bloom maintained his fighting stance and moved as though he was going to strike Smith, Gamble said. Deeney and Bloom looked at each other, and Deeney then fired his Taser at Bloom.
Deeney arrested Bloom and Smith and charged them each with misdemeanor simple affray, court records show.
When Deeney interviewed Bloom afterward, Bloom told him that he didn't intend to stop fighting because Smith had insulted him, and he knew that Deeney was about to use a Taser on him, Gamble said.
"He chose the wrong option," Gamble said of Bloom.
Neither Bloom nor Smith could be reached for comment Thursday night.
A cell-phone video showing the incident was sent to the Winston-Salem Journal from Doug Schleter, a 2005 East Forsyth graduate. The video shows two male students sparring like boxers and swinging at each other while students around them watch and laugh. Neither appears to land a solid blow.
Gamble said that the video matches accounts by Deeney, Bloom and Smith. The department's policy says the use of force must be reasonable and legal based on circumstances that the officer is facing, Gamble said. Police administrators reviewed the incident and the video.
"We are trained in situations in which we have to make that decision in a split second," Gamble said.
Winston-Salem police and the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office have similar policies regarding their officers and deputies using Tasers.
Deeney will remain at his post at East Forsyth because he behaved appropriately, and he will not be disciplined, Gamble said. Deeney is popular among the East Forsyth students, he said. Principal Patricia Gainey said she also thought Deeney acted appropriately.
East Forsyth students had mixed opinions on the incident. Several said it was funny, and many more saw the video than saw it in person. "(Deeney) didn't give him enough time," said senior Raven Cathcart, who said she saw the fight.
Cathcart said the two fighters had a disagreement before the fight, but it wasn't serious.
"They were play-fighting because they're cousins," she said.
Freshman Ivy Pickard said she heard the officer warn Bloom before he tased him.
"I think he warned him enough," she said, "and then he just tased him."
Officers who work as school resource officers at East Forsyth tell each freshman class that every officer who patrols the school is armed with a Taser, Gamble said. If the students are involved in fights, the officer will yell "Taser" before the officer uses the weapon to stop the fight.
East Forsyth averages about 60 fights a year, Gamble said. During Deeney's tenure as a school resource officer there, officers used Tasers to break up fights twice during school hours, including the latest incident, and once during a school athletic event.
More than 50 Kernersville officers have been equipped with Tasers for three years, Gamble said, adding that they are effective crime-fighting tools that produce few injuries among suspects and officers. During their training, officers are stunned with Tasers.
"Any use of force involves some risk," Gamble said.
The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system doesn't have a policy on use of force, said Theo Helm, a system spokesman.
S. Wayne Patterson, the president of the Winston-Salem chapter of the NAACP, said he received several calls from people who saw the video of the incident.
"That incident is outrageous," Patterson said.
Bloom and Smith are black. Deeney is white.
Gamble said that Deeney's use of the Taser "has nothing to do with race" because there is no evidence that race played a factor in the incident.
"It's a perception issue," Gamble said, adding that people who saw the video didn't see how the fight started.
But Patterson disagreed with Gamble.
"I beg to differ," Patterson said. "If racism didn't play a part, then the officer would have talked to the students instead of using his Taser. Anything could have happened to that young man (Bloom)."
Reprinted with permission from MyFOX8.com