An 18-year-old Bakersfield High School student who was late to class and refused to leave his desk until his teacher marked him as present was tasered twice by a Kern High School District Police Department officer, a lawsuit filed in September claims.
Tyson Reed, who was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in 2015, claims the district violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, discriminated against him based on race and falsely arrested him.
“Tyson (Reed) was exercising his rights as a student and a person with a disability in an attempt to communicate with his teacher. In response, the school not only failed to accommodate Tyson’s disability, but responded with violence,” the suit states.
The suit names the Kern High School District, KHSD PD Officer Luis Pena and BHS social sciences teacher Brett Bonetti as defendants in the suit filed in Kern County Superior Court.
KHSD spokeswoman Lisa Krch told Courthouse News Service in September that the district disputes Reed's version of events.
"The district will steadfastly defend itself in this litigation and awaits the opportunity to provide accurate information and factual context to this incident and about the conduct of the parties involved," Krch wrote.
It started March 6, 2015, when Reed was called to the principal’s office to talk about an incident during another class, which he said he was not involved in, court documents say. After, he was given a hall pass to his seventh-period class with Bonetti.
Instead of going straight to class, Reed walked to the bleachers to listen to music and drink water. His anxiety had been aggravated by the visit to the principal’s office and he needed to calm down, the suit states.
When he got to class, Bonetti would not accept the hall pass and told him to leave. Reed refused and sat down. That’s when Bonetti called campus security, which responded with two security guards and Pena, the KHSD police officer.
According to the suit: Pena pushed Reed’s desk away and yelled at him, then grabbed his arm and tasered him. A security guard grabbed Reed’s arm as he fell to the ground. Reed cut his lip on his braces. After Pena got Reed to the ground and handcuffed him, he tasered him again.
“I don’t deserve this,” Reed screamed, according to the suit.
Reed’s mother made Bonetti and the school aware of her son’s anxiety disorder weeks before the incident, but no reasonable accommodations were made for him, the suit claims.
Pena marched Reed through the halls in handcuffs as he escorted him to his patrol car — something the suit claims resulted in “humiliation, hardship and anxiety.”
Reed's attorney, Shawna Leigh Parks, said the use of force was uncalled for.
“I’d be interested to hear what they (district officials) think merits the use of a taser in a classroom. From my perspective, the bar is pretty high for that kind of use of force in a school setting," Parks said.
Pena was still employed as a KHSD officer as of September, records show.
Administrators suspended Reed and began expulsion proceedings, then rescinded both after investigating the incident, the suit states.
Despite that, Reed faced 10 months of court proceedings in Juvenile Court based on what Parks called Pena’s “false reports.” Parks wouldn't go into detail about the allegations against Reed because the juvenile records are under court seal, but said that Pena alleged Reed was "physically aggressive" during the incident and resisted arrest.
A delinquency judge found the allegations against Reed were not true, the lawsuit states.
He wouldn’t return to BHS the following year, requesting instead to be placed in independent study.
“He did so because it was extremely disturbing to him to have to go back to Bakersfield High every day to encounter the same people involved in the incident, and to face the students who were all aware of the incident,” the suit states. “He did not feel safe at Bakersfield High School.”
Parks said the incident points to a lack of training for police in a school setting.
"The combination of allegations of excessive discipline of kids of color, a lack of training for lack of policy, and how it played out for Tyson. I do think it’s a recipe for disaster," Parks said.
Reed’s suit is an offshoot of another lawsuit filed against KHSD alleging widespread discrimination practices that targeted Latino and African-American students. Reed was named as a plaintiff in that case but he was dismissed from it and filed his own suit Sept. 22, court filings show.
KHSD expelled four times as many students as the state average in the 2010-2011 school year, according to federal data. The year before, 30 percent of expelled students were black boys.
Since the lawsuit was filed, suspension and expulsion rates have dropped. Between 2012 and 2015, the latest year data is available, suspensions dropped 28 percent, and expulsions plummeted 74 percent.