Natchez High School parent calls for action, transparency
Published 1:01 am Friday, March 9, 2018
NATCHEZ — A concerned parent arrived at the sheriff’s office Wednesday morning with one question: Why had deputies pushed her son to the ground and handcuffed him at school?
What began with accusations and anger, however, turned into a call to action for parents and administrators in the school district.
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It started last week when a Natchez High School student shared a photo on Facebook showing two sheriff’s deputies holding a young man facedown on the ground while placing handcuffs on his wrists.
The student who put the picture on Facebook included a post saying young, black men being handcuffed is a “daily situation,” at Natchez High and that she fears for her own safety.
The post has been shared more than 5,000 times in the past week.
Kim Hill said seeing the picture of her son being forced to the ground and detained was difficult. Hill said she loves her son and most of all wants him to be safe.
“I wanted to find the truth,” Hill said, “because I want to work on this. I don’t want this to happen again.”
Hill said she wondered why deputies had singled her son out, what he had done to cause law enforcement officers to handcuff him. She also wanted to know what she could do to ensure such an incident never happens again.
So, she said, she decided to ask.
Hill and her mother, Carolyn Anderson, walked into the Adams County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday morning to speak with Sheriff Travis Patten in order to better understand the situation and what could be done to keep it from happening again.
“They explained their concerns, and we heard them out,” Patten said. “Then we told them our concerns, and they listened to us. I’ve never seen this happen before. With any parent.”
Hill said she came to the office believing her son had been assaulted and “stomped” by officers, but when Patten showed her deputies’ bodycam footage, she learned the truth.
Administrators called sheriff’s deputies to Natchez High School because a student was not complying with administrators and was being deliberately disorderly, Patten said.
When they arrived on campus, one of the officers believed the disorderly student was Hill’s son, and Hill said her son did not contradict him.
When Hill’s son did not comply with deputies’ orders, they took him to the ground and handcuffed him.
The deputies did not arrest the 15-year-old, but they detained him long enough to speak with him about his conduct.
“I think they did what they were supposed to do,” Hill said of the deputies. “My son was in the wrong, but he was unhurt. He had the chance to diffuse the situation, and he didn’t.”
Hill said after she saw the video, the anger and apprehension she had felt changed.
“My son chose poorly, but he’s going to learn from this,” she said. “What I want to know now is, how do I stop this? I don’t want it to keep happening.”
Anderson said she, too, had changed her mind after watching the sheriff’s footage of the incident.
“My grandson is a young black man,” she said. “I could be in a funeral home today. If I had been anywhere else, I might’ve been.”
Patten said Hill’s reaction is rare among parents.
“I really respect parents like this,” Patten said. “It takes parents like this to change the village. My deputies were accused because of a social media post, and when (Hill and Anderson) learned what really happened, they were exonerated.”
Patten said he defends his deputies’ right to detain and even arrest students when necessary, saying it is their duty to maintain order at the school.
“We want to set the example,” Patten said. “We want to love and respect our students, but they have to respect us, too. We are going to maintain order; it’s our job.”
Hill said she feels the incident involving her son is indicative of a larger safety concern at the high school.
“Something is going on at the high school,” she said. “And I don’t want my son (to be) a part of it. As a parent, I want to know. We want our kids safer.”
Hill said the onus is on administrators and school leaders to be transparent with parents, to tell them what is going on with their children.
“They have to be stricter on social media,” she said. “The post on Facebook, it took off. And it wasn’t the truth.”
Natchez-Adams School District Superintendent Fred Butcher said school administrators, too, struggle with the problem of social media.
“Social media is killing us,” Butcher said. “We are revisiting our policy, but there is not much we can do to control what students put online.”
Deputy Superintendent Zandra McDonald said school administrators cannot police social media, but that the district is revisiting school phone policies.
At current, students can have phones on campus, but they must keep the device on silent at all times and cannot use it in classrooms.
McDonald said parents, too, must actively monitor their children’s social media accounts.
“A lot of this starts online,” she said. “We cannot police every student’s social media. When a parent sees something wrong, they need to contact their administrators.”
Hill said the next step cannot be to blame one another for past grievances but for parents and school leaders to band together to make a change.
“We don’t want to point fingers,” Hill said. “I just want to know, what can we do to fix this? Will any other parents stand up with us to fix this?”