On March 6, a 17 year-old Cedar Shoals High School student was pepper sprayed and arrested by Athens-Clarke County Police Department officer Barbra Fortson after a physical altercation with another student.
More than four months later, Sharee Jackson, the mother of the student who was pepper sprayed, wants three main things: compensation for the bail she paid, the charges against her daughter dropped and the officers’ cases reviewed.
Jackson said her daughter sat in jail for about four to six hours until she was able to come up with the bail money, a $4,600 surety bond from a bail bond company, of which Jackson paid about $500. Jackson said the expenses almost left her homeless.
Since the incident, Jackson said she’s written two complaints to ACCPD and has spoken to Fortson’s superior, who Jackson claims told her that Fortson “got heated,” and said “she’s human.”
Jackson said she also wrote a complaint to the Clarke County School District board, but has not received a response.
“They are trying to sweep me under the rug,” Jackson said.
According to CCSD communications specialist Mary Wickwire, CCSD staff held multiple meetings with Jackson, and an investigation occurred, resulting in Jackson’s daughter being disciplined and suspended for 10 days.
Geoffrey Gilland, ACCPD public information officer, said Fortson was no longer the school resource officer at Cedar Shoals and that she “was offered and accepted an assignment with Recruitment and Retention.”
Use of pepper spray
Jackson claims her daughter was targeted by officer Fortson prior to the incident, and that the fight was already broken up before her daughter got pepper sprayed, leaving no reason for the arrest.
“[Fortson] walked up to my daughter, unbuttoned the pepper spray and pepper sprayed my daughter,” Jackson said. “My daughter walked off and was not aggressive or anything. They were not in any physical contact at all.”
According to Fortson’s report, Jackson’s daughter was involved in an altercation with another student when Fortson was notified and responded. The two students were separated and Fortson took one of the students to the security office. Fortson was then informed that the security officer, Azizi Harris, needed assistance.
Upon arrival, Fortson reportedly saw Jackson’s daughter push Harris when she decided to intervene. “I grabbed Jackson in an effort to redirect her; she swung at me with a closed fist and missed,” Fortson wrote in her report.
“Again I told her to go to the nurse’s office. She did not comply,” Fortson wrote in her report. “She walked towards the front door, but did not exit the door. Before I deployed my OC spray, I told her I was going to do so and I did.”
Upon reviewing surveillance footage of the incident with Cedar Shoals officials, Jackson said she told Fortson that spraying her daughter was “a cowardly move,” to which Fortson allegedly responded by calling her “retarded” and telling Jackson she needed to worry about her daughter’s behavior.
Officer Fortson charged Jackson’s daughter with disorderly conduct and affray. She was handcuffed and transported to the Clarke County Jail. The other student was not arrested because of an injury, but a warrant was signed for her arrest, according to the report.
Raising further questions
Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement President Mokah-Jasmine Johnson hosts monthly meetings for the End School to Prison Pipeline that adresses juvenile incarceration.
“We need to move toward restoring as opposed to punitive punishment,” Johnson said. “We’ve been advocating for the schools to not arrest kids.”
Johnson provided The Red & Black with a copy of the footage after receiving it from Jackson. She believes CCSD should reduce the amount of officers on campus and change the disciplinary policies that cause children to be incarcerated and parents to pay the bail.
In regards to officer Fortson, Sharee Jackson wants ACCPD to review Fortson’s cases and drop the charges against her daughter.
The charges against Jackson’s daughter are still pending, but a plea of not guilty has been submitted.