A Tennessee Student’s Violent Arrest Raises Questions About Police in Schools

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A Tennessee high school student was violently arrested after refusing to play kickball in gym class. Body camera footage has renewed scrutiny over the role of school police.CreditCredit...Hamilton County Sheriff's Office

Kassie Bracken and

In late September, this cellphone footage circulated showing a high school student in gym class in East Ridge, Tenn., pulled by his hair and thrown to the ground by a school resource officer (SRO). What started as a student-teacher argument over the student’s refusal to play kickball ended with the armed officer, Tyler McRae, pepper-spraying and arresting 18-year-old Tauris Sledge. After the video went viral, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office released more than an hour of Deputy McRae’s bodycam footage on YouTube that conveyed the moments leading up to the altercation, and the officer’s subsequent interaction with the student’s father.

But the contextual footage did little to appease many in the school community, and students staged a walkout the next day over McRae’s actions. And yet, it is 18-year old Tauris Sledge currently facing criminal charges: disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and assault.

The National Center for Education Statistics reported that about 51 percent of schools had a sworn law enforcement officer routinely carrying a firearm in the 2019-20 school year. Despite the increase in national presence of SROs on campus, there is a lack of a federal, uniform definition of their roles and responsibilities, leaving it up to local jurisdictions.

The East Ridge incident occurred just a few months after Dr. Justin Robertson, the newly-appointed school superintendent, responded to the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, by pledging to staff each his 79 schools with an SRO, an active member of law enforcement from the sheriff’s office or police department, or an SSO, a school safety officer hired directly from the district. But the case has prompted Hamilton County School District administrators to revisit their policies regarding what type of student behavior requires intervention by armed officers.