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Texas student tased by police exits coma, enters rehabilitation
(CNN) -- A 17-year-old Texas student who spent 52 days in a medically induced coma after police used a Taser on him at school entered a full-time rehabilitation facility Friday, his family's attorney said.
Noe Nino de Rivera was transported to the hospital on November 20 after Bastrop County Sheriff's Deputy Randy McMillan, serving as a school resource officer, used the device on him after the teen tried to defuse a school fight involving two girls, one of them his girlfriend, said attorney Adam Loewy.
The parents have filed a lawsuit alleging their son never posed a threat to the deputy and that Nino de Rivera suffered a permanent brain injury when he hit the ground after McMillan tased the teen.
The family is also asking the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to outlaw the devices, along with pepper spray, on state campuses.
Several civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, sent a letter to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement last month calling the use of such weapons on children "unconscionable."
"Texas families deserve to send their children to school without fear, knowing they can trust their schools to be safe havens," the letter said.
A jumpy surveillance video provided by Loewy shows Nino de Rivera amid a commotion in the hallway of Cedar Creek High School, about 20 miles southeast of Austin. The teen appears to be stepping backward, away from the officer, when he is hit with the stun gun and falls to the floor.
"As a result of being tased, NDR fell to the ground, striking his head on the floor. While NDR was unconscious, defendant McMillan placed him in handcuffs," the family's lawsuit says.
School officials did not immediately call paramedics, the lawsuit says. When they did, Nino de Rivera was taken to a local hospital and later airlifted to St. David's Medical Center in nearby Austin, where he "underwent surgery to repair a severe brain hemorrhage and was placed in a medically induced coma," court documents say.
The lawsuit claims McMillan used excessive force and that Nino de Rivera "posed no imminent threat of death or serious injury to McMIllan." It asks for compensatory damages and attorney's fees and expert's fees, among other relief.
Cynthia Ramirez of the Bastrop County Sheriff's Office said the department could not comment because of the pending litigation, but a court document from the county's attorneys alleged that Nino de Rivera "failed to comply with the lawful orders of Deputy McMillan and therefore Deputy McMillan used the reasonable amount of necessary force to maintain and control discipline at the school."
"The actions of Deputy McMillan were the actions of a reasonable officer," the court documents say.
Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association, defended McMillan's use of a Taser in an interview with CNN affiliate KXAN, saying Nino de Rivera appeared coherent after the incident and apologized to the officers.
"He was saying 'I shouldn't have done that,' " Lawrence said. "When they got him to the hospital, he again got out of control and became aggressive to hospital personnel to the point they called the sheriff's office again and said, 'We need help over here.' "
Loewy called Lawrence's account "100% false" and "complete nonsense." The lawyer further noted that doctors at St. David's Emergency Center-Bastrop quickly sedated the teen before having him airlifted to the Austin hospital.
"The video speaks for itself. (Nino de Rivera) was not acting aggressively," the attorney said. "The deputies were very aggressive in coming up to this situation. I think this officer made up his mind to go to Taser very quickly."
"He never struck the police officer. He never disobeyed instructions," Loewy added.
Deborah Fowler, legal director for Texas Appleseed, a group that fights for social and economic justice in Texas -- and a signatory to the ACLU letter calling for a Taser ban in schools -- said there is no state or national data on how frequently Tasers are deployed on students.
The letter to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement cites more than a dozen media reports on officers who used Tasers or pepper spray on students, and Fowler cited high-profile cases in Wake County, North Carolina, and Syracuse, New York, but said she suspects such media reports are "just the tip of the iceberg."
Texas Appleseed would be open to discussing with law enforcement how best to use the devices when a student has a gun or other weapon, she said, "but that's not how it's being used, for the most part."
The Texas juvenile justice system doesn't allow Tasers, and it has specific limitations on when to use pepper spray, so Fowler said she doesn't understand how the state can condone the use of such devices in places of learning.
"There are other methods of de-escalating fights that wouldn't pose the same risk," she said.