Pepper spray forces school evacuation

October 24, 2006|By Nick Shields and Laura Barnhardt | Nick Shields and Laura Barnhardt,Sun Reporters

Two teenagers were charged with assault yesterday after a fight that sparked the evacuation of an Owings Mills area high school and sent six students to the hospital when police used pepper spray to quell the brawl, authorities said.

The incident occurred shortly before 11:15 a.m., when two officers responded to a fight between the male students, ages 17 and 18, in a second-floor hallway at New Town High School, Baltimore County police said.

"Because they could not control the two, they had to resort to pepper spray to get them under control and into custody," said Cpl. Michael Hill, a county police spokesman.

The spray permeated the area and affected 10 other students in the hallway, Hill said. Authorities evacuated the school after the fight to air out the school, Hill said.

Three students were treated at Northwest Hospital Center in Randallstown and three others were treated at Carroll Hospital Center in Westminster, Hill said. Four others were treated at the school, Hill said.

Classes resumed around 12:15 p.m., officials said.

Guidelines on the use of pepper spray don't preclude their use in schools, said Edward Mamet, a retired New York City police commander and police policy expert. Pepper spray shouldn't be used on pregnant women, young children or those with known breathing problems, he said.

The use of pepper spray in confined spaces isn't recommended, he said, because the officer using it can contaminate himself or herself and other bystanders unintentionally.

But, Mamet said, "I can't fault the officers. They may not have had another option.

"The use of pepper spray is an alternative to nightstick. It's less lethal - that's why it was invented.

"It's like a shot of water from a hose," he said.

Hill said he did not know of an incident this year in which pepper spray had been used in a Baltimore County school, but he added that "officers always do their best in the time of a physical altercation to keep in mind the surrounding environment. However, in some situations, they have to use whatever force is necessary to overcome the resisting force that they have."

Hill said an internal review will be initiated. He said the review occurs when an officer uses force.

Cegies Conner, legal guardian of a senior at New Town High, said that she wasn't happy when she heard about the arrests and the pepper spray.

She said she hopes the children causing the problems are expelled.

If her child were inadvertently pepper-sprayed, she said, she would be upset but added that "likewise, these kids are acting not as kids, but as violent grown people - what do you do?"

The 17-year-old and 18-year-old were charged with second-degree assault, disorderly conduct and failure to obey an officer, Hill said.

The 17-year-old was also charged with disruption of school activities and released to his parents, police said.

The 18-year-old was awaiting an appearance before a court commissioner late yesterday.

nicholas.shields@baltsun.com laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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