Bud Kennedy

Abbott, conservatives also decry jailing Irving teen

Ahmed Mohamed, 14, gestures as he arrives at his Irving home on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. Ahmed was arrested Monday at his school after a teacher thought a homemade clock he built was a bomb. He remains suspended and said he will not return to classes at MacArthur High School.
Ahmed Mohamed, 14, gestures as he arrives at his Irving home on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. Ahmed was arrested Monday at his school after a teacher thought a homemade clock he built was a bomb. He remains suspended and said he will not return to classes at MacArthur High School. AP

Our late city police chief Thomas Windham had a great rule.

“The No. 1 rule for Fort Worth police,” he said, “is, ‘Don’t do anything that embarrasses Fort Worth police.’ ”

Irving police and school officials could have used that advice this week. Even staunch conservatives now criticize their handling of high schooler Ahmed Mohamed over what amounts to a conduct violation involving a box full of wires.

“The last thing we want to do is put handcuffs on a kid unjustifiably,” Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday in Dallas.

Police knew quickly that Mohamed’s homemade clock-in-a-box wasn’t a bomb or an attempted threat under the law.

Yet instead of leaving, they kept the 14-year-old handcuffed while school officials at MacArthur High cooked up a three-day suspension for a “lookalike weapon.”

Dianna Muldrow of the Austin-based conservative justice think tank Right on Crime wrote Thursday about the overbearing use of campus police and the “overcriminalization” of children.

[The officials’ mistake] wasted police resources, resulted in a bright student being removed from his studies and left a lasting impression.

Dianna Muldrow, Right On Crime

She wrote that Irving officials’ “gut reaction … wasted police resources, resulted in a bright student being removed from his studies and left a lasting impression.”

Principal Daniel Cummings had written proudly to parents Tuesday about police responding to a “suspicious-looking item.” He warned against violating the district conduct code, which vaguely bans any “ ‘lookalike’ weapon.”

As it turns out, this is not unusual for Irving. The district is one of the most heavy-handed in the state and uses city police for schoolhouse discipline more than almost any other in the state, if a report is right in the liberal Texas Observer.

Another Austin group, Texas Appleseed, has joined Right on Crime and other bipartisan efforts to reduce police involvement in petty campus discipline. The goal is to keep harmless kids out of court.

“First of all,” said attorney Morgan Craven of Texas Appleseed, “this was absolutely horrible.

Somebody could have said, ‘We’re not going to do that,’ but nobody did.

Morgan Craven, Texas Appleseed

“Ahmed was subjected to arrest and detention without his parents. It’s a horrifying story, and it’s one that hundreds of students in Texas face every day … Police are contacted on an incident that could be resolved in a reasonable way.”

Craven went on: “There were so many points during his arrest where somebody could have said, ‘We’re not going to do that,’ but nobody did. The teachers didn’t. The front office didn’t. … If there’s a serious situation, it needs to be addressed in a serious way. But the presumption was, ‘We have to catch him for something.’ 

How’d that work out?

Greg Abbott responds to questions during a stop in Dallas on Thursday. (

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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