This lawsuit was originally filed on behalf of a Syracuse high school student who was shot with a Taser by a police officer in September 2009. In March 2014, this lawsuit was expanded to include another plaintiff, Trevon Hanks, who was a 12th grader when he was shot with a Taser three times by a school resource officer. The lawsuit was originally filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York in 2010 and maintained that the repeated abuse of Tasers in Syracuse schools was the inevitable result of the city's failure to train police officers about the difference between patrolling criminals on the streets and children in schools. It charged the city and a police officer with excessive force and violating the plaintiff's constitutional rights.
The original plaintiff, Andre Epps., was a 15-year-old ninth grader at the time of the incident and had recently moved to Syracuse from Michigan. On Sept. 28, 2009, Epps was sitting on a school bus in front of the school when a female student asked to borrow his cell phone. Epps lent the student his phone and followed her off the bus as she made a call. While outside, another female student attacked the student who had borrowed Epps's phone. Epps stepped between the students and attempted to break up the confrontation. Then several police officers arrived on the scene. Without warning, one of the officers fired a Taser. At least one of the weapon's twin barbs lodged into Epps' left arm. Epps, who was not resisting any lawful order, suffered two extremely painful shocks that caused him to tense up and spin around in agony and confusion. The officers yelled at him to get on the ground. He was handcuffed and arrested with the Taser barb still in his arm. It was only his fifth day at his new school. Later Epps was taken by ambulance to SUNY Upstate Medical University Hospital. At the hospital, a police officer told Epps' mother that the use of the Taser was a “mistake."
Epps was never charged with any crime. Epps suffered continuous pain in his left arm for between three and four weeks after the incident. More than a year later, he was still experiencing recurring pain. The incident deeply embarrassed Epps in front of a large group of his new classmates. He has been the butt of rumors and jokes about it. T
he lawsuit maintained that the incident was the inevitable result of the city's policies and practices governing the deployment of armed police officers in the public schools, officers who are trained for patrolling the city's streets and not adequately trained to patrol the hallways and playgrounds of its schools. Furthermore, the Police Department's policy on Tasers made no distinctions between using the weapon on an adult or a child. Nor did it differentiate between using a Taser in schools or on the streets, and it did not require an officer to issue a warning before firing the weapon. The lawsuit asked the court to declare the officers' actions against Epps violated the U.S. Constitution and state law. It also requested compensatory damages for Epps' family, who incurred substantial medical bills as a result of the incident.
The second plaintiff Trevon Hanks joined the lawsuit in 2014. On June 19, 2012 – Hanks' 18th birthday – he was attempting to make up coursework necessary to graduate on time after he suffered prolonged absences due to hospitalizations and complications related to his Type-1 diabetes when he was instructed by his Henninger High School guidance counselor to complete geometry assignments in the school's computer lab. But Hanks had trouble with the computer program. Frustrated that school officials would not help him with the program or let him take the work home with him, and scared he might not graduate, Hanks left the lab crying, laid down in the hallway, and called his mother. School staff asked him to leave, but he said he couldn't go without his work. Although Hanks never threatened anyone and was lying on the ground, a school resource officer came and grabbed his arms and without warning shot the Taser directly into Hanks' back. The officer then yelled for Hanks to put his arms behind his back, but Hanks was unable to move due to the shock and pain of the Taser. Hanks tried to explain he was diabetic and afraid of complications that may arise from the Taser, but the officer shot the Taser into him a second time. Hanks body went limp, allowing the officer to flip him over, shove his knee into the student's back and shoot the Taser for a third and final time. Hanks was handcuffed, dragged – still unable to use his legs – and slammed against a cinder block wall before being taken to Onondaga County Justice Center. He spent the night in jail because officers didn't finish his paperwork on time, where he fell ill because he didn't have appropriate food or access to timely insulin to control his blood sugar level.
Hanks was arraigned the next morning on charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and criminal trespass, all of which were eventually dismissed. Hanks had no criminal record, had no altercations with law enforcement outside of this incident, and was a good student. He continued to experience pain for several days. On December 4, 2014, NYCLU announced a settlement agreement with the Syracuse Police Department that requires new rules with specific restrictions against shooting juveniles, the elderly and pregnant women with Tasers and an immediate investigation if any of these vulnerable populations are shot. The new regulations will be integrated as a part of the Syracuse Police Department's overall use of force policy. They outline that Tasers should only be deployed against actively aggressive subjects whose actions pose an immediate threat to themselves or to others.
N.D.N.Y., Index No. 5:10-CV-1542 (direct)