Three students went to the hospital and 17 were picked up by parents Thursday afternoon from Jack Robey Junior High School after they had difficulty breathing and other adverse reactions to pepper spray that was sprayed in a hallway by a school resource officer, according to district officials.
Pine Bluff School District Superintendent Jerry O. Payne said that the school district's initial investigation into the incident indicated that the students were returning from a reward lunch event at about 1 p.m. when the incident occurred. Payne said a school employee who witnessed the incident did not see any students being unruly, but said they were being slow about returning to class when the officer sprayed the pepper spray into a corner of the hall.
"We will as a system as per normal procedure follow up on Monday with an investigation into this particular incident," Payne said.
Payne said that school officials and the leadership from the Pine Bluff Police Department have met on the matter and exchanged information.
PBPD spokesman Lt. Bob Rawlinson said the department’s Office of Professional Standards has opened an investigation into the incident.
“Because of that investigation, I can’t release any other information [until it is completed],” Rawlinson said.
Caroline Brown, mother of one of the students who went to Jefferson Regional Medical Center after the incident, said she was called by the school nurse and told that several of the students were complaining of chest pains after the incident.
“They told me the police officer sprayed Mace in the air because the kids were moving too slow,” Brown said. “I’ve heard so many stories, including that there was a fight but there was no fight because if there had been, they would have taken kids to jail.”
Brown said her daughter, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, was complaining of chest pains and burning hands, and was being treated Thursday afternoon in the emergency room.
“They told me to watch her real close when I took her home,” Brown said.