Shaquanda Cotton

Shaquanda Cotton (sometimes incorrectly referred to in the media as "Shaquandra" or "Shaquana") is an African-American girl who, in March 2006, at the age of 15, was sentenced to an indeterminate time not to exceed her 21st birthday in the Texas Youth Commission's juvenile detention facilities for shoving a hall monitor at her high school in Paris, Texas, U.S.A.[1]

The sentence
Shaquanda was tried in the town's juvenile court, convicted by a jury of "assault on a public servant" for allegedly shoving Cleda Brownfield, a hall monitor at Paris high school in the Paris Independent School District, and sentenced by Lamar County Judge M.C. "Chuck" Superville, Jr. to the Texas Youth Commission for up to seven years, not to exceed her 21st birthday.[2] She was sentenced when she was 14 and served over a year at Ron Jackson unit in [[Brownwood, Texas]. Since then the facility has been investigated for abusing many of the children placed there.[3]

[edit] The incident
According to trial testimony, the incident with the teacher's aide happened on September 30, 2005 about 20 minutes before classes began at Paris High School. The testimoney was conflicting. Teacher's aide Cleda Brownfield claimed to have locked the school building's door at 8:05 am in accordance with school policy. Brownfield testified that Cotton approached her, attempting to enter the building "saying she had to go to the restroom." Brownfield allegedly told Cotton she would have to use a restroom in cafeteria until the building was opened at 8:30. Cotton alledgedly asked to see the nurse to get her medication. Cotton left, then returned when she saw several white students being allowed to enter. Cotton asked why they were allowed to go in but not her. According to Brownfield and teacher Jerry Fleming, Cotton then allegedly told Brownfield "I'll knock your block off" and attempted to push her way in. Brownfield alledgedly put her hand up "in a defensive posture" and Cotton alledgedly "responded by shoving her." According to defense witnesses, Fleming and Brownfield shoved Cotton and injured her. Medical reports reveiled Cotton sustained a contusion to her head, a cut on her hand as well as a strained neck in the exchange.[[4] School authorities then summoned Paris Police officer Brad Ruthart (school resource officer assigned to the campus), who then met with both Brownfield and Cotton about the incident.[4]

According to Ruthart's testimony, Brownfield "was crying, very upset, holding her arm. I asked her if she was OK, and she said she was not. I felt she needed medical help. She was so upset she had difficulty talking." Ruthart testified that Cotton, who was being held in the office, "was very calm, didn’t appear to be a threat" at this point.According to Brownfields statement, she wanted to return to work but was told by Ruthart to go to the hospital. Ruthart was told by several teachers who were friends of Brownfield, that Cotton instigated the attack. Some students, who were described as Cotton's friends, stated that Brownfield "shoved first." Ruthart stated he preferred to believe Brownfields version and she was a "mild-mannered, soft-spoken, a grandmotherly type."[4]
Cotton did not testify at the trial. Brownfield testified that Cotton never requested to visit the nurse's office. Ruthart also testified that Cotton made no mention of needing to visit the nurse's office when he questioned her about the incident afterward. He also admitted that he never questioned her regarding her injuries[4]

Approximately two hours after the incident Brownfield was placed on a stretcher and taken to the hospital by ambulance. However, no evidence of injuries to Brownfield was ever produced at trial. Cotton's mother also drove her to the emergency room for the cut on her hand, head contusion and sprained neck suffered during the exchange.[4]
Rickey Smiley Speaks at Shaquanda Cotton Protest

Texas Teen freed from jail

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Shaquanda Cotton Released!!!!!!

HOUSTON — Shaquanda Cotton, the black teenager in the small east Texas town of Paris whose prison sentence of up to 7 years for shoving a teacher’s aide sparked nationwide controversy, was released Saturday.
Her release, ordered by a special conservator appointed to overhaul the state’s scandal-ridden juvenile prison system, was the first of what could be hundreds as a panel of civil rights leaders begins reviewing the sentences of every youth incarcerated by the Texas Youth Commission to weed out those being held arbitrarily.
“We have no confidence in the system that was in place,” said Jim Hurley, spokesman for the conservator, Jay Kimbrough. “And this case is an example of what we expect to happen if something wrong has been done to youths being held inside that system.”
Cotton, who is 15, had no prior criminal record when she was incarcerated a year ago under an indeterminate sentence that could have lasted until her 21st birthday. Her case rose to national prominence and became the focus of ongoing civil rights protests after a March 12 Tribune story detailed how a 14-year-old white girl convicted of the more serious crime of arson was sentenced to probation by the same judge.
Cotton’s case occurred against a backdrop of persistent allegations of racial discrimination inside the Paris public schools — allegations that are the subject of a continuing probe by the U.S. Department of Education to determine whether black students in the district are disciplined more harshly than whites.
“When I learned about this case, I thought, this just looks so bad and smells so bad it made me hurt,” said state Rep. Harold Dutton, the influential chairman of the Texas Legislature’s juvenile justice committee. “I told [prison officials] I wanted her out of there immediately.”
The superintendent of the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex in Brownwood, Texas, where Shaquanda Cotton is being held, called the girl’s mother, Creola Cotton, Friday afternoon and told her she could come pick up the youth, Creola Cotton said.
But because it is a five-hour drive from Paris to Brownwood, and the weather in the area on Friday was severe, Creola Cotton said she couldn’t reach the prison until Saturday morning.
Later Friday, prison officials, who had not told Shaquanda of her impending release, allowed her to call her mother.
‘She nearly fell on the floor’
“She thought they were bringing her to the office to tell her I was not going to be able to visit this weekend like I was planning because of the bad weather, so she was already crying,” Creola Cotton said. “I said, ‘Oh, I’m still gonna come see you tomorrow. But you’re going to be coming home with me.’ She nearly fell on the floor.”
Officials said Shaquanda Cotton was being released on 60 days’ probation to allow her to access state health and counseling services. But after that, she would be completely free, they said. Creola Cotton said her daughter would not return to the Paris public schools but would pursue her GED at home.

What effect her release might have on the pending legal appeal of the youth’s case was unclear.
Since she has been in prison, Shaquanda Cotton said that she had grown despondent surrounded by other youths who were hardened criminals, and that she had tried to commit suicide. Her sentence, which ultimately was up to the discretion of prison officials, had twice been extended, first because she would not admit her guilt as required by prison regulations and then because she was found with “contraband” in her cell — an extra pair of socks.
Those sentence extensions drew the attention of Kimbrough, who was confirmed by the state Senate on Thursday as conservator of the youth prison system, which has been rocked by a sex scandal over allegations that guards and administrators coerced inmates for sex.
Kimbrough, a former deputy attorney general, said last week that he was convening a special committee to examine the sentences of all 4,700 youths in Texas juvenile prisons to determine how many might have had their sentences unfairly extended by prison authorities — and that Shaquanda Cotton’s was the first case he intended to review.
Prison officials said it was Kimbrough who personally ordered the girl’s release on Friday.
Since the Tribune’s first account of Shaquanda Cotton’s case, her story has been circulated on more than 400 Internet blogs and featured in newspapers and radio and TV reports across the country. Two protests demanding her release were held in Paris and a third, to be led by Rev. Al Sharpton, was scheduled for Tuesday.
Even before news of her impending release broke Friday, the Lamar County District Attorney’s office, which prosecuted her and pressed for her to be sent to prison for up to 7 years, made an abrupt turnaround and said the youth had served enough time and ought to be freed.
Court discrepancy revealed

“Let her out of TYC,” said Allan Hubbard, spokesman for Lamar County District Atty. Gary Young. “Hell, she’s done a year for pushing a teacher. That’s too long.”
Hubbard also backed away from claims he and Young made this week in numerous media interviews that the judge in the case, Lamar County Judge Chuck Superville, had had no choice but to send the youth to prison because her mother had testified that she would not cooperate with probation officials had the judge sentenced the teen to probation.
On Thursday, Young’s official Web site contained this assertion: “This juvenile’s mother (Creola Cotton) told the judge she would not comply with conditions of probation.”
But a review of the full court transcript shows no such testimony. In fact, Creola Cotton repeatedly answered “yes” when asked in court whether she would comply with any conditions of probation that the judge might impose.

On Friday morning, after an inquiry about this discrepancy by the Tribune, the district attorney’s Web site was altered to read: “Through her actions of non-cooperation, Ms. Cotton told the judge she would not comply with conditions of probation.”

Why is Shaquanda Cotton in Prison?

Shaquanda Cotton, 15, of Paris Texas, is entering the second year of a 7-year prison term for pushing a hall monitor at her high school 2005. Reportedly, there were no serious injuries in the incident and this was her first arrest. Cotton is black. The same judge had recently sentenced a white teenager to probation for arson.
During her imprisonment, Cotton has tried to seriously hurt herself three times. She says she is depressed and afraid of the other girls, most of whom have prior criminal records and serious felony convictions. She told Chicago Sun-Times reporter Howard Witt:

A guard at the prison where she is being held is accused of molesting four girls. The board responsible for overseeing the Texas juvenile justice system amid charges that they covered up sex abuse scandals in several of the facilities it oversees.
Cotton's supporters say that her case reflects a long-standing pattern of racist treatment in a town whose best-known landmark is the public fairgrounds where black men were routinely lynched as white spectators cheered. The court and prosecutors reportedly denied a Chicago Tribune reporter's request for comment.
Cotton's mother said her daughter was singled out because she accused the school district of racism on several occasions. In fact, 12 discrimination complaints have been filed against the school district in recent years. School district officials dispute the charges, but the US Department of Education, which is still investigating, has reportedly asked the US Department of Justice to investigate.