A police officer who sprayed pepper spray inside a hallway at a Pine Bluff middle school has been reprimanded with an eight-hour suspension without pay, the police chief determined last week.
As a result of the April 5 incident at Jack Robey Middle School, school officials said three students went to the hospital for treatment and 17 were picked up by parents after they had difficulty breathing and other adverse reactions to the spray.
Officer Anthony Brown, who is a school resource officer at Jack Robey, received notice of the suspension from Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones on June 6, according to a letter provided to The Commercial by a department spokesman Wednesday. The letter notifies Brown that he has 10 days to appeal the decision with the disciplinary Review Committee.
According to Brown’s report on the incident, he sprayed a small amount of pepper spray when he saw a large group of students loitering in the hallway and not moving to class following the lunch period. Brown reported that the students were getting loud and rowdy.
“I gave several directives to the students to move out of the hallway and to go to their classrooms and the students were not responsive and refused to go to class,” Brown stated in the report.
“I took out my pepper spray and squirted a small amount in a corner on the floor in the hallway and students started to disperse afterwards. During the time of the spray, I did not spray or aim at any student’s body or in the air. The intent of using the spray was to disperse the crowd and not to harm anyone.”
PBPD Investigating Supervisor Sgt. Lynn Wright found that Brown did not follow policy when he used the pepper spray.
“Policy states when verbal dialogue has failed to bring a person or persons in compliance and signaled an intention to actively resist the officer’s efforts to make an arrest,” Wright stated in his report. “Policy also states whenever practical and reasonable the officer should issue a verbal warning prior to using O.C. spray. It is in my opinion Officer Brown did not act according to policy of the use of O.C. spray. Policy Number 555 of the Pine Bluff Police Department Policy and Procedures Manual.”
At the time, then-Pine Bluff School District Superintendent Jerry Payne said Brown was allowed to return to the school after he talked to police officials and was told that any discipline would take place within the department. PBPD spokesman Lt. JoAnn Bates said Wednesday Brown is still assigned to that post.
The letter cites two department policies Brown was determined to have violated. One of the policies refers to how and when pepper spray should be used by officers and is the one that was also cited by Wright in his report.
The second policy cited in the letter is unclear. The section number listed in the letter leads to a passage in the policy that deals with the use of deadly force. However, a parenthetical note in the letter next to the section numbers states that the item has to do with the use of force report, which is actually covered on the next page in the policy manual.
The full Pine Bluff Police Department policies and procedures manual is viewable online at http://pbpd.org/DepartmentalPolicies.html.