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OFFICER CLEARED IN SECOND USE OF PEPPER SPRAY\ LAURA STEELE WAS JUSTIFIED IN HER USE OF FORCE AGAINST A 16-YEAR-OLD STUDENT, POLICE OFFICIALS SAY.

OFFICER CLEARED IN SECOND USE OF PEPPER SPRAY\ LAURA STEELE WAS JUSTIFIED IN HER USE OF FORCE AGAINST A 16-YEAR-OLD STUDENT, POLICE OFFICIALS SAY.

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A High Point police school resource officer has been cleared for a second time for her use of pepper spray to subdue an unruly student.

A department investigation found that Officer Laura Steele was justified in her use of force against a 16-year-old student at Southwest High School Feb. 20.Less than 24 hours before that incident, the department announced that Steele had been cleared for using pepper spray against an 11-year-old girl at Southwest Middle School Feb. 2.

Capt. Neil Kearns, who heads the department's Professional Standards Division, said no complaint was made to the department in the Feb. 20 incident, but the matter was investigated by Steele's supervisor as part of the department's required investigation in cases where force is used.

The matter was not investigated by the professional standards division but was reviewed by division officials, Kearns said.

The Feb. 2 incident involving the young girl was investigated by the professional standards division because a complaint was made in that case, Kearns said.

Professional standards investigations tend to be more comprehensive than those handled by an officer's supervisor, he said.

Both of the students who were pepper-spayed were charged with disorderly conduct and resisting an officer.

Steele has remained as the school resource officer at the middle and high schools during the investigations. Both schools have seen an increase in arrests.

Arrests at Southwest High School jumped from 22 in calendar year 1999 to 47 in 2000, according to statistics compiled by the High Point Police Department. Among the more serious crimes, the arrests last year included 11 for assaults, eight for drugs and three for fighting.

At Southwest Middle School, arrests increased from 12 to 45 during the same period.\ On Friday, Steel charged four students with assault following a fight on a school bus.

According to a report of Friday's incident, the fight started when a student began throwing paper at other students. The fight included two students being struck by a belt and one student being stabbed with with a pen.

The students were cited and released Friday and no pepper spray was used, said Steele's supervisor, Lt. Keith Washington. Zotoyia Brooks, 17, of 3964 Cole Ave., and Timothy Aaron Glenn, 18, of 1421 Penny Road, were charged with assault. Two other students were also charged with assault, but their names were not released by police because they are juveniles. A fifth student, also a juvenile, was charged with disorderly conduct.\ \ Contact Paul Garber at 883-4422, Ext. 245, or pgarber@news-record.com

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