Friday, April 11, 2008

Civil Rights Lawyer Stands Up For Youngster Wrongly Charged With Felony

WTIC 1080 Ray & Diane Show, Courant story

"Some knuckleheaded cop thought he was looking at a homegrown terrorist," Pattis said. "The suggestion that he built a Taser is ridiculous."

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  • Hartford Courant story,0,1964006.story

    Clinton Teen's Family Challenges Suspension Over 'Dangerous' Camera

    Courant Staff Writer
    April 11, 2008


    Christian Haughwout is a 14-year-old honors student and a self-described science geek. So when he discovered how the flash of a disposable camera could emit an electrical charge, he thought it was cool and showed his classmates.

    But officials at The Morgan School were not amused.

    Police say the ninth-grade advanced placement student turned the camera into a Taser-like weapon, and they charged him with possession of a weapon on school grounds, seconddegree attempted assault and breach of peace. He was also suspended from school for 10 days.

    Now, the teen and his parents are fighting back in federal court with a lawsuit against school district officials that challenges the 10-day suspension. A hearing will be held Wednesday.

    The teen's attorney, Norman Pattis, said police and school officials overreacted.

    "Some knuckleheaded cop thought he was looking at a homegrown terrorist," Pattis said. "The suggestion that he built a Taser is ridiculous."

    Police Chief Joseph P. Faughnan said Thursday he stands by the police officers' actions in the case. He declined to discuss the case further, citing confidentiality laws regarding juvenile court matters.

    Sgt. Jeremiah Dunn, who could not be reached Thursday, said in The Courant on April 3 that the student was showing the device to his classmates and tried to test it on one of them. Dunn said another student pushed the student with the stun gun away and reported the incident.

    School Superintendent Albert Coviello did not return a call seeking comment.

    The lawsuit, filed by the teen's parents, Brett Haughwout and Carolyn Vangemert, states that in March, Christian Haughwout took the camera to school and showed his math teacher how the flash mechanism could emit a shock. The teacher told him it was "cool" and Haughwout asked if he could show the other students. When the teacher didn't reply, the teen "thought he was allowed to show the other students," the lawsuit states.

    Students tried out "being 'zapped'" by the camera, the lawsuit says, and no one complained. On April 2, students again played with the camera in an English class. One student said he did not want to get shocked so Haughwout "removed it from the area." The student "then backed into" Haughwout's hand and the camera fell to the ground and the flash went off.

    "A few students and the teacher were startled but there was no complaints," the lawsuit states. Haughwout was then taken to the assistant principal's office and was later charged by police.

    At school the next day, students called Haughwout "convict." On April 4, school officials told Haughwout and his parents that he would be suspended for 10 days, beginning Monday. The lawsuit says the school principal "did not tell them the basis of the suspension."

    In an April 2 letter to Haughwout, the principal stated the reason for the suspension was possession of a deadly weapon. "The policies of the Clinton Board of Education define a deadly weapon as one that is loaded or unloaded from which a shot may be discharged, or a switchblade knife, gravity knife, billy, blackjack, bludgeon or metal knuckles," the lawsuit says.

    At a hearing appealing the suspension Monday, Haughwout's parents received a letter stating that the grounds for suspension "were now possession of a dangerous instrument and causing a threat or danger to the physical well-being of himself or other people," the lawsuit says.

    School officials denied Haughwout's request to return to school.

    The lawsuit, filed this week in U.S. District Court in New Haven, names Coviello and Jack Cross, assistant superintendent. William Barney, principal of The Morgan School, and Assistant Principal Keri Hagness are also named.

    Contact Alaine Griffin at

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