Last week the mother of an eight year old, who was pepper sprayed by police during a violent rage at school on February 22nd, appeared on a number of morning news shows.
The child, Aidan Elliott, appeared alongside his Mother Mandy Elliott. They told the story of how Aidan had gone into a “temper tantrum” at school and how police used “excessive force” by using pepper spray to subdue the out of control child.
At first blush this seems a bit much. After all we are talking about a second grader. After a bit of researching and watching the talk shows and interviews they did, I quickly changed my mind.
The story goes that young Aidan was enrolled in a classroom for emotionally disturbed children even though his mother claims he has been evaluated extensively and does not have a single diagnosis and is not on any kinds of psychiatric medication.
He started to act out on the school bus when the bus driver wouldn’t allow him to “do what I wanted to do”. When he got off the bus he carried on his anger into the breakfast room and then eventually landed in the classroom.
The teacher in the classroom diverted his eight classmates to another area of the school and attempted to deal with him alone. It quickly got out of hand. Another teacher came to help try to calm him.
Aidan went on a rampage that would only rival a violent video game or violent movie. He cussed at them, spat at them, threw a television, slammed the TV cart and busted it into pieces, turned over and threw classroom equipment.
The teachers fled to an adjoining office storage room when he started throwing chairs at them and called the police. Aidan, on the outside of the door, tried to crash through the door to get to them. He even went as far as to bust off wall trim and got a piece of wood about a foot long. He fashioned the wood into a shank. Aidan said “I wanted to make something sharp for like if they came out because I was so mad at them. I was going to try to whack them with it.”
When he says “whack” he’s talking “kill whack” not “hit upside the head whack”. He was screaming at the teachers barricaded in the small office “If you come out you’re gonna die”.
When police arrived to the destroyed room they found Aidan with his wooden one foot spear in one hand and a cardboard box in the other. He screamed at them “I will kill you. Come and get me mother effers”.
The police told him twice to drop it but he refused. They sprayed him once with pepper spray which he deflected with the cardboard box. He wasn’t so lucky on the next shot.
The second shot hit him in the cheek and down the cardboard box, the spear, and Aidan went. It took a couple of seconds to cuff him and get him outside where EMS was onsite to rinse his eyes and face.
This is the third time this school year the police have been summoned to come see about Aidan. We do not know how many times they have been called on him in previous school placements. He has also brought home thirteen conduct reports just this year.
Because of his young age, no charges were filed. After a mental health school hold he was placed in another school for emotionally disturbed children. He has attended this school in the past.
The police department was willing to drop the incident but Mother Mandy is not. Aidan and his Mother appeared on Good Morning America, ABC News, and 9News Colorado. Mandy Elliott put the police department on notice that she is filing a complaint because she feels the police used “excessive force”. She claims he has never harmed anyone in the past.
She states her purpose for bringing this out into the public is that she wants the police to have “special training” and send “special units” that deal with kids in “these crisis situations”. She contends that “all other times they have been able to talk to him, find out what was bothering him and calm him down”. She wants the Lakewood police officers to get training like other local police departments in the area have for a crisis situation with children.
Mandy states that her son is a perfectly normal little boy when he is home, with babysitters, with his grandpa, with his “Nan” in Wyoming, and when he is swimming and playing soccer. She states he does not have any behavioral problems at home. She doesn’t know WHO to believe… her son or the school when they tell her of his violent rages.
She states he doesn’t have any psychiatric diagnosis or disability and past attempts to medicate him for his school behavior failed. He goes to weekly therapy for his “rage” problems at school. She doesn’t really know what brings on his violent rages at school but she believes it is when he goes from a “structured activity” like social studies to free time and then back to a “structured activity”. There’s nothing she can do about how he behaves at school because she’s not there.
I don’t believe Mandy is being honest about this. Her son doesn’t have a problem going from “structured activities” (school work) to fun. He has a problem going from fun to “structured activities” (school work). He doesn’t want to get to work. On this day his terrorizing began on the bus not at school. He escalated to violence when he was supposed to settle down and get to work.
I think Mandy has a few motives for bringing this out into the public. In my opinion I think she’s laying the footwork for a lawsuit against the police for “excessive force” AND she is paying into an insurance policy to insure that if her son should go ballistic again destroying property and threatening the lives of his teachers and classmates that the police won’t pepper spray him again.
I think she’s having a hard time getting little Aidan on the school bus in the morning because he knows he can’t go that far again without running the risk of receiving a face full of chemicals. She wants to assure him that should he go off again that the worst that’s going to come his way is “words”.
She’s sending a big shout out to the Lakewood Police Department that they best not try that again. She wants “special officers” to come who have “special training” in the use of “special words” to come to her sons “special school” and TALK him out of his “special classroom”.
Her beef with the police is that all they had to do was wait ten minutes for her to arrive. She would have been able to do something even though she has no experience at home dealing with his rages because he doesn’t have problems at home. She didn’t consider the poor frightened teachers holed up in the office who shouldn’t have had to wait another minute to get to safety, get themselves collected, and get on with their day. She didn’t consider the eight other students who were supposed to be with those teachers to start their education that day. It was okay with Mandy that they all stay locked away while someone else arrives to do more for Aidan.
She thinks they could have sent the “specially trained” people who have previously been able to talk him out of it instead of the “regular” officers. She doesn’t think the regular officers should have come and just TOLD him to drop the stick and expect him to do it. Instead, they should have people there to talk to him about “what’s bothering him”. No matter how long it took or how many people were suffering, fearful, and at risk of harm, Aidan should have received more talk.
Steve Davis, the Lakewood Police Spokesperson had another viewpoint. He said “our officers HAD to do something in a hurry to diffuse the situation before someone got hurt. I think the officers made a great choice that day in choosing the pepper spray.” He’s putting Mandy and Aidan on notice: If he does it again we are going to do it again.
This case is extreme but within these types of cases we do see the direction our society is heading. In the past few years we have seen a fundamental and universal shift away from physical intervention and seclusion to address violent behavior in children.
Lakewood Public Schools officials say they are seeing more children in preschool and elementary school with assaultive or threatening behavior.
I’m very concerned about it too.
I think Aidan is on the leading edge of young children who have had a childhood of adults who can only use “words” when they act out violently. Despite his Mom’s protest, I believe he had had a long and prosperous career of fighting, hitting, spitting, kicking, destroying property and tearing up adults. The pepper spray was the first time he was met with a consequence exacted by adults other than words.
The Mom believes he should have been “talked down” again but I don’t agree. In fact, I think the two previous times he was successfully talked down may be the exact reason he felt so comfortable going as far as he did on February 22nd. He’s done hundreds if not thousands of acts of aggression that have been met with only talking or maybe a few minutes of time out. He never expected the adults dealing him would come armed with something other than words. That something was some “no” in a can.
There was a middle ground the teachers and the Lakewood Police could have considered. Surely two full grown adult teachers or two 200 pound police officers could disarm and muscle an eight year old to the ground. They didn’t entertain that route because it’s too risky.
The chances of him being harmed when they were fielding his rage would have likely ended up injuring him in some way. The force it would have taken to subdue him could have bruised or broken bones. Even with training and proper technique they could have made a mistake that could cost them their jobs, their career, and their livelihood.
As the age of violent assaults gets younger and younger and the acts of violence get more and more aggressive the caretakers of young children become more at risk. The child care providers, teachers, and ultimately the police are now being faced with managing rage, bodily harm and property damage coming from children as young as preschoolers. The ability to intervene carries higher stakes with outcomes that could poof away someone’s career in one unsuspecting day.
If this continues we are going to see caregivers and teachers across America doing what Aidan’s teachers did: protect themselves, the other kids, and call the police. If we are in the business of not accepting the polices actions when they come to manage it then soon enough they won’t want the risk either.
Aidan’s Mom needs to be grateful for all the special Aidan already has. He gets to ride a special bus, get special teachers, have a special classroom, and now a special school. Expecting the Police Department to offer more “special” when he’s threatening lives and destroying property is entitled and unrealistic.
If anyone is going to get special training it needs to be her. The video of her home life with Aidan showed us clearly that just a few short weeks after this incident she allows him to play violent video games, have toy weapons, eat pure junk food, and have access to a small defenseless pet.
She needs special training to understand that violent children shouldn’t ever have access to practice pretend violence with video games or view violence on television. They should have a healthy diet free of sugar and chemical laden treats. She needs to understand the connection between small children who are violent and how they behave towards pets. She needs to remove ALL symbols of violence like his superhero collection and toy guns.
Instead of using the public forum and media attention to chide the police she needs to use it to apologize to the poor underpaid and overworked teachers and the disrespected police officers who were so poorly treated by her son. She needs to enroll into the special training called “How to Repay The School District When Your Child Destroys School Property” and enroll her son in the special training called “The Police Are The Boss Of You 101″.
She’s raising him within the window where his behavior is considered special. It won’t be long before what is now considered special will work it’s way into what is normal. The funding used to serve her son won’t be available when the majority of the children being served need the same thing. That’s where we are headed.
She won’t be successful suing over this. She may waste a bunch of taxpayer money but she won’t win any. Her sons school district is home of the 1999 Columbine Massacre. They know better than any school district on the planet the outcome of school violence. She will find it very hard to find a sympathetic audience when so many of the folks in that community had their lives devastated by out of control students.