An 11-year-old honor student in Brownsville, Texas, was detained and placed in solitary confinement for three days after being accused of making a terroristic threat against his principal, according to a report by The Texas Observer.
Timothy Murray, a fifth-grader at Brownsville Independent School District (BISD), was arrested on Sept,8, 2023, by the school police officer, who claimed that Timothy had threatened to kill her, Myrta Garza. Timothy denied making any such threat, and no evidence was found to support the allegation.
The principal, Garza, was accused of retaliating against Timothy for seeking counseling and challenging the school dress code.
According to juvenile justice experts interviewed by the Texas Observer, the Brownsville Independent School District and police may have violated state laws and regulations intended to protect young children from excessive law enforcement actions in Timothy’s case. These include a law requiring a fact-based, systemic threat assessment involving the parent to determine if there is an imminent threat warranting a referral to law enforcement, as well as a Texas Supreme Court order prohibiting the handcuffing and shackling of young children. Although state law allows a minor to be placed in solitary confinement for 24 hours, staff at the detention center informed Rincon that her son was further isolated for COVID precautions.
“This was the choice of the school to refer to law enforcement, the choice of the law enforcement to detain the child, the choice of the prosecutor to charge him and try to trump up the charges,” said Renuka Rege, policy advisor at Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit that researches and advocates on many issues, including juvenile justice. “All of these things are failures in serving young kids.”
Timothy mentioned that he felt targeted after Garza continuously reprimanded him. Initially, it was about his haircut, and then it was about not wearing a school uniform, which was not enforced in the previous year. The school’s website does not have a dress code policy posted, and photos mostly show students without uniforms. Timothy wrote three letters by hand to Garza, seeking clarification on whether wearing the uniform was a recommendation or a policy. Despite this, Garza never responded. However, according to Timothy, she would often position herself outside his classroom or in the lunchroom and shout, “Uniform, Murray!”
“There would be kids behind me without uniforms, but they didn’t get screamed at,” Timothy said. “She would tell me, ‘Where’s your uniform? Otherwise, we’re going to kick you out of the ACE [afterschool] program, revoke your library privileges, revoke your lunch privileges.’”
Instead of going to school, Timothy was taken to the Darrell B. Hester Juvenile Detention Center, where he was locked up in a small cell for 23 hours a day, with no access to books, education.
The juvenile justice system in Texas is flawed and biased, as it disproportionately targets Black and Latino students, denies them due process, and exposes them to harsh and abusive conditions. According to a report by Disability Rights Texas, a nonprofit organization that advocates for people with disabilities, Texas schools referred more than 30,000 students to law enforcement in the 2019-2020 school year, and 60% of them were Black or Latino.
Timothy was released on Sept.11, 2023， The charge has not been dismissed. The judge ordered a safety risk evaluation and conditional release home until his next hearing. Timothy transferred to another school.
Furthermore, the Texas Supreme Court issued a ruling last year that forbids the handcuffing or shackling of children in juvenile court proceedings, unless there is a significant risk of the child causing physical harm to themselves or others, or attempting to flee from the courtroom. However, Timothy was handcuffed at school and later handcuffed and shackled by his ankles during court proceedings.
“We don’t know if Timothy even made this threat. This was based on a report by a student and really nothing to back it up. We don’t know if the school did a threat assessment. We don’t know on what basis the court could have found that Timothy presented a substantial risk of physical harm or flight at the time to handcuff him,” Rege said. “It’s not clear on what basis they could have found this to be an imminent threat warranting a referral to law enforcement. Unfortunately, that’s what they did.”
– This 11-Year-Old Brownsville ISD Honor Student Was Put in Solitary, The Texas Observer, November 2, 2023
– Fort Bend ISD suspends Black students at higher rates, TEA data shows, Community Impact Houston, September 13, 2023
– New discipline method works to remove racial bias in Houston-area schools, ABC13 Houston, October 29, 2023
– Unfair School Discipline – IDRA, Intercultural Development Research Association, February 25, 2020
In the article “Texas Honor Student Detained and Isolated for Alleged Threat” (News, November 6), we used some improper expressions that did not meet our editorial standards. The correct expressions are provided in the revised article above. The error was due to a lack of careful proofreading on our part. We apologize for any misunderstanding or offense caused by the error. We have taken steps to prevent such errors from happening again.