Pawtucket sued over arrest of middle school student

Tre’sur Johnson, now 14 years old appeared at a news conference in the ACLU of Rhode Island Providence office January 20, 2020. Her mother is filing suit against Pawtucket over her arrest last June over a schoolyard scuffle at Goff Middle School. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

By Steve Klamkin WPRO News

The arrest last June of a middle school student over a schoolyard scuffle has prompted a lawsuit against the City of Pawtucket charging that her civil rights were violated.

Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island said they notified Pawtucket they will sue on behalf of Tre’sur Johnson, now 13 years old and her mother, Tiqua Johnson, who said her daughter was wrongly arrested by a school resource officer.

“Something needs to be done, because he was too comfortable doing it,” said Tiqua Johnson, as she described the arrest by the officer.

“To tell me he was going to make an example (of her). How many parents has he told that to?” Johnson asked as she spoke with reporters Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the Providence office of the ACLU.

Executive Director Steven Brown said the ACLU brought a complaint against Pawtucket four years ago about police involvement in the schools over a school officer’s violent confrontation with a Tolman High School student.

Brown claims school officers often escalate minor disciplinary incidents into major ones, unnecessarily introducing youngsters to the criminal justice system at an early age.

“They talk about how SRO’s (school resource officers) are not to be disciplinarians,” Brown said. “The memorandum of understanding between the school department and the police department talks about it, and yet it’s ignored, and nothing happens.”

Tiqua Johnson said she moved her daughter to a parochial school, taking a second job in order to pay for it. Tre’sur Johnson dissolved into tears twice as she tried to answer reporters’ questions.

“When I see officers now, I just try my best to avoid them because I feel like, ‘what if I do something wrong?'” she asked.

Shannah Kurland, an ACLU volunteer attorney said a letter sent Monday to Pawtucket puts the city on notice in accordance with state law, about the Johnson’s intent to file suit.

In a statement, the City of Pawtucket said “all protocols were properly followed”, adding that the ACLU lawsuit is “without merit”.

Here is the full statement from the city of Pawtucket:

Statement Re: ACLU Lawsuit Regarding June 3, 2019 Incident at Goff Middle School

On June 3rd, 2019, two students were involved in a violent altercation outside of Goff Middle School prior to the start of the school day. The incident occurred in front of staff and hundreds of students gathered for the beginning of school. Staff immediately responded to separate the two juveniles involved, to prevent the situation from escalating, and to ensure the safety of all Goff students.

This was a serious, violent incident in which the Pawtucket School Department called the Pawtucket Police Department. An officer reported to the school from another assignment to handle the matter. Unfortunately, the actions of the juveniles warranted the decision to arrest and charge both students involved with disorderly conduct.

It’s unfortunate that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has chosen this approach. The incident that occurred at Tolman High School is completely unrelated to the one that occurred at Goff Middle School. Trying to imply that an incident that occurred four years ago at Tolman High School somehow was handled inappropriately and that the fight which occurred June of 2019 at Goff Middle School was handled improperly as well.

In fact, at the end of the investigation related to the Tolman incident four years ago, it was determined that the Pawtucket Police Department and Pawtucket School Department acted reasonably and professionally in this situation. It’s unfortunate the ACLU has total disregard for the community in its attempt to exploit this occurrence.

After a thorough review of the incident and response, including a review of video footage of the altercation and interviews with Goff Middle School staff and the responding SRO, the Pawtucket School Department and the Pawtucket Police Department are highly confident that all protocols were properly followed, and that the ACLU’s potential lawsuit is without merit. We look forward to hearing from the ACLU and gathering all the facts in order to determine the next steps.