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Pittsburgh students settle suit alleging school’s excessive force

PITTSBURGH — A Pittsburgh-area school accused of creating a culture of verbal abuse and excessive force that allowed resource officers to shock students with stun guns and body slam them reached a settlement Tuesday in a civil rights lawsuit.

Attorneys for the five black former students and their parents, who filed the lawsuit in August 2017, said a federal judge still has to approve the settlement petition. The lawsuit alleges white school administrators had engaged in discriminatory behavior against the black students, some of whom say they were also discriminated against because they have emotional and behavioral issues. It alleges false criminal charges were filed against several students to cover up alleged physical abuse and excessive force.

The former students will split more than $500,000 if the settlement is approved. It was unclear what the individual settlement amounts would be.

The attorneys said the settlement comes with a commitment from a new high school principal and a new superintendent to end violence toward students.

“All children — regardless of race, gender or disability — are entitled to an education free of violence and abuse,” attorney Timothy O’Brien wrote in a statement.

The lawsuit filed against the school district, the Churchill Borough, Dynasty Security, former principal Kevin Murray, former superintendent Alan Johnson and former school resource officer Stephen Shaulis, cites five different incidents, at least four of which were partially captured on the school’s security cameras.

A video from 2009 shows Shaulis shoving a student into a locker without apparent physical provocation, then shocking the student with a stun gun and arresting him.

One in 2010 shows a behavioral specialist lifting a student up against a locker and slamming him into the ground, breaking the student’s wrist.

In 2017, Shaulis was accused of punching and knocking out the tooth of a 14-year-old freshman accused of stealing a cellphone.

An audio recording was also released of former principal Kevin Murray allegedly threatening to punch a 14-year-old special education student in the face and “knock your … teeth down your throat.”

New school district superintendent James Harris said Shaulis is no longer working at the school, but said he did not know his employment status. Phone messages left with the Churchill Borough Police Department and an attorney who represented Shaulis were not returned Tuesday.

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