Federal Government Investigates Dallas Truancy Courts

Photo by Christina Ulsh

 

Photo by Christina Ulsh: http://keranews.org/post/kids-eye-view-dallas-county-truancy-courts-under-federal-investigation

Photo by Christina Ulsh

Late last March, the Department of Justice announced a federal investigation of the Dallas County Texas Truancy courts.  Based on preliminary investigations, the Justice Department estimated that in 2014, Dallas County prosecuted over 20,000 children for missing class.  Punishing students for truancy may be understandable, but in Dallas students can be arrested in front of their classmates, sent to court, and charged outrageous fines.  The Justice Department is investigating the processes used by the Dallas court.  Reports indicate students with valid excuses for missing class are still being charged and fined by the court, with no chance to explain. KERA News in Dallas reported on one student at a school in East Dallas, who after a schedule change was counted truant from one class when she was sitting down the hall in a different class.  She was arrested in front of her mother and fined $200, all with no attorney and no real chance to explain to the judge.

The Justice Department is concerned that those children being prosecuted are part of a school-to-prison pipeline. Former Attorney General Eric Holder explained in the press release:

“This investigation continues the Justice Department’s focus on identifying and eliminating entryways to the school-to-prison pipeline, and illustrates the potential of federal civil rights law to protect the rights of vulnerable children facing life-altering circumstances.  As the investigation moves forward, the Department of Justice will work to ensure that actions of Dallas County’s courts are appropriate; that our constitutional protections are respected; and that the children of Dallas County can receive the meaningful access to justice that all Americans deserve.”

The investigation was triggered by complaints filed by Texas Appleseed, Disability Rights Texas and the National Center for Youth Law.  One of the disputed practices in Dallas County is the practice of arresting students at school in front of their classmates. As Deborah Fowler, the deputy director of Texas Appleseed (one of the three advocacy groups that filed the complaint with DOJ) poignantly said,  “It’s really hard for me to see how arresting a child at school promotes engagement in education.”

Update on Police, Tasers & Teenagers

Taser photo II

In August, 2013, a Miami Beach police officer caught Israel Hernandez-Llach spray-painting a shuttered McDonald’s on North Beach.  After a brief foot chase, Miami Beach Officer Jorge Mercado shot Herandez-Llach with his department-issued Taser.  The teen later died at Mount Sinai Medical Center.  After a six-month-long medical examination, medical examiners stated Hernandez-Llach died of heart failure from the “energy device discharge.”  This finding is unusual because the device has never been cited in an official cause of a death report in Florida.  Instead, most of the local Taser-related deaths have been ruled as cases of “excited delirium,” a rare brain malfunction often caused by cocaine or mental illness that said to transform victims into violent, feverish attackers.

Medical investigators conducted extensive toxicology exams and tests at the University of Miami’s Brain Bank to explore whether Hernandez-Llach had experienced excited delirium.  The teen’s body temperature was over 102 degrees more than an hour after he was pronounced dead, which can be a sign of delirium.  However, Hernandez-Llach was not enraged during the brief foot pursuit with police and his toxicology report did not find any drugs other than marijuana.

Medical examiners rarely list a stun gun as contributing to a death because Arizona-based Taser International has been aggressive in suing medical examiners that do cite the brand.  In 2008, Taser successfully removed the stun gun as a cause of death in three cases.  In Hernandez-Llach’s case, Miami-Dade’s medical examiner did not specifically cite the Taser brand, and instead referred to a “conducted electronic device discharge.”

Taser has previously suggested officers avoid shooting suspects in the chest because of the risk of cardiac arrest in some people.  Further, in 2012, a small study in an American Heart Association publication found that the weapon can cause heart failure in some healthy people.  Unfortunately for Hernandez-Llach, this suggestion was not heeded.  Additionally, since February 5th, three more Miami-Dade men have died after being tasered by police.

Read more here:  http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/03/06/3978777/teen-shot-by-miami-beach-police.html

Belgian Lawmakers Grant Children the Right to Die

http://green-mom.com/topics/child-and-baby/international-adoption-at-all-time-low.html#.UlwDHRB4jmg

The lower house of the Belgian Parliament have adopted a bill that extends the right to euthanasia to minors. Belgium was already one of the very few countries where euthanasia is legal, but until now it has only been applicable for adults.

Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002 for those in “constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated.” Until now, minors had to wait for nature to take its course or for them to turn 18.

Parliament voted 86 to 44 to amend the euthanasia law so that it would apply to minors, but only under certain additional conditions. Circumstances include parental consent and the requirement that the minor exhibit a “capacity for discernment” as determined by a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

Before the legislation can go into effect, King Philippe must agree with and sign it.

There is widespread support in Belgium for the bill in the largely liberal country. However, it has also sparked vehement dissent from some. Dissenters argue that the legislation is too harsh and final, and an abandonment of children. Conversely, supporters of the legislation argue that children should have a choice and parents should not be forced to watch their terminally ill children suffer as they approach their inevitable death.

With adoption of the bill, Belgium will join the Netherlands in allowing euthanasia for children. The Netherlands has allowed child euthanasia since 2002 with parental consent. Since its adoption, only five children have utilized the Netherlands’ law.