Parents of a 10-year-old autistic student who said their child was injured in April when he was handcuffed by a Denton Police Department school resource officer have released body camera footage from the Denton police that shows what happened during the incident.
The parents of the student, Emily and Robert Brown, have said that their child suffered “severe bruising” on his head, wrists, back and knees as a result of the incident.
“It is a shame that when a child shows up for school that they have to be fearful for their safety,” the Browns said in a statement on May 11. “It’s even more disheartening that the school bully turns out to be the school resource officer.”
According to Denton city officials, the SRO officer responded appropriately given the situation.
“Given the totality of circumstances and the information known to the officer, the officer acted in a manner that best protected the student, other students, and the staff,” a statement provided by Jessica Rogers, Denton spokeswoman said.
“Officer Coulston was there to help control the classroom environment as the student was engaging in disruptive and assaultive behavior towards other students. The officer’s assessment of the situation was that the student posed a threat and could potentially harm himself or others. As a peace officer, Officer Coulston had a responsibility to protect the other students, staff, and the student from himself.
“Officers are trained to evaluate situations and decide what actions best protect students, staff, and others from harm, including to protect students from self-harm. In this incident, the officer’s assessment of the situation was that the child was posing a serious threat of injury to himself or others, and the decision to use restraints was made only when the child posed a serious threat to himself or others. Once the child was calm, the restraints were removed.
“As is permitted by the Texas Administrative Code, restraints can only be used in situations where the student is posing an imminent, serious physical threat of harm to himself/herself or property.
“The Denton Police Department Office of Professional Standards initiated a review of the incident to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and Departmental policies. The review was completed and no violations were found.
“Officer Coulston is still employed as a School Resource Officer for DPD at a middle school in Denton ISD.”
Mario Zavala Jr., Director of Communications & Community Relations with the Denton school district, also sent a statement, which said that the district has protocols in place to ensure the safety of all of our students.
“In this instance, the student resource officer (SRO) made the determination, after all other efforts to de-escalate the situation proved ineffective, that the student was a detriment to his own safety and that of the other students and staff, the statement said. “As with any situation that involves an SRO handling a student, we will continue to review our practices and work with our partner law enforcement agencies - in this case the Denton Police Department - to ensure that established protocol is followed safely and effectively.”
The video is blurred so as to not identify any of the students and staff not involved in the incident. The student can be seen being grabbed by the hands by two adults in one video which lasts nearly four minutes.
The student begins grunting as one adult threatens to place him in handcuffs.
A longer video of the incident records the screams of the student as he is being handcuffed.
Michael Holum, an advocate who works with the Browns on their child’s special education needs with the company Advocacy Behavior Consulting, said that what is being shown on the video does not match what officials have said about this event.
“The video speaks for itself, with clarity and audio and visual opportunities,” Holum said. “If the Denton Police Department has reviewed this tape and finds no violations of their departmental policies or of state or federal statutes, then I highly suggest that an independent third party investigative agency, either state or federal review the tape. If that independent agency agrees with the Denton Police Department’s assessment then I would strongly urge that new legislation that would protect children from being subjected to the types of physical emotional and psychological trauma that this student was subjected to.”
This story contains information from the Star-Telegram archives