All Paris High School senior Joquan Wallace wanted was to go to the restroom. He got his teacher’s permission to leave class and decided to go to one some distance away because he wanted more privacy. A school police officer apparently followed him and later questioned Wallace about going to the restroom, authorities said.
In a statement that Wallace gave to the Paris Texas Chronicle, he said Officer Joey McCarthy told him he had looked under the door to the stall while Wallace went to the restroom and noticed that his feet were not facing in the direction they would have been if he had been sitting down.
The next thing he knew, Wallace, 19, was being detained by the officer and school Principal Gary Preston in an incident that has kicked up quite a storm in Paris, a town of about 25,000 in northeast Texas. By the time the incident was over, Wallace had been charged with two felony counts of assault of a public servant for allegedly fighting with McCarthy and Preston after he was hassled about the restroom he chose to use.
As a result of that Feb. 24 incident, Wallace was expelled from Paris High School, where he was set to graduate later this year. He’s been forced to attend an alternative school and is worried that the controversy may negatively affect his chances of getting an athletic scholarship to college.
A Paris, Tex., civil rights activist named Brenda Cherry is asking for the public to sign a petition that she posted on Change.org asking the local prosecutor to drop charges and school officials to readmit Wallace to Paris High so that he can graduate with his classmates, including his sister, who is also a senior this year.
Cherry described Wallace as a “well-behaved student” who excelled in track and football. He had no criminal history and had several colleges considering him for scholarships, she said.
“He’s a good young man,” Cherry said. “He says ‘Yes, ma’am, no ma’am.’ He’d never been written up before this…He had no suspensions or anything else. He’s a good student who was about to graduate and then all this happened. Now he’s worried that the colleges won’t look at him. ”
Wallace’s attorney, Sharon Reynerson of Lone Star Legal Aid, said she is preparing to file an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Education this week alleging that he was discriminated against because he is Black. She wants Wallace’s record cleared.
“This is one of those things that will ruin his future,” she said.
Cherry and Reynerson said Paris High School has been accused several times of unfair treatment of Black students. It is the same school where Shaquanda Cotton, then 14 and a freshman, was accused of the same charge as Wallace after an altercation with a hall monitor in 2005. Cotton, who claimed the hall monitor pushed her first, was sentenced to seven years in prison. She was released after one year after a national outcry focused media attention on the town and the Paris Independent School District (PISD).
In a blog Cherry writes for the Paris Texas Chronicle, Cherry indicates that Wallace told her that after McCarthy confronted him, he headed back to the classroom, only to be confronted by the officer a second time, along with the principal.
“Mr. Preston told me to go to the office. I said let me get my stuff. School was about to be let out and I didn’t want to leave my phone and stuff at school.”
Wallace said as he was heading to get his things, the principal and the police officer “grabbed me and put me in a headlock.”
Neither Preston nor McCarthy could be reached for comment. Online records show Wallace was booked into the Lamar County jail at 4:07 p.m. on Feb. 24 and released at 8:38 p.m. The charges require a $5,000 bond each.
Wallace’s parents took him to a local hospital. A photo Cherry took showed what appeared to be a mark on his back.
According to Cherry, initial written statements from McCarthy and Preston did not mention the officer questioning Wallace about the restroom. “As a matter of fact, McCarthy made it seem like his problem was that Joquan was not in class,” Cherry said.
Students who were inside the last-period class wrote statements substantiating Wallace’s claim that he was manhandled.
Cherry said she was hoping for 500 signatures on her Change.org petition.
“I was shocked when I went back on it and saw this week that 20,000 people had signed it,” she said.
She wants PSID Superintendent Paul Jones to allow Wallace to return to school and for Lamar County prosecutor Gary D. Young to drop the charges.
“Stop the school to prison pipeline.”