BY RICK FOSTER / SUN CHRONICLE STAFF
Saturday, November 1, 2008 3:45 AM EDT
ATTLEBORO - The family of a 16-year-old honor roll student is claiming the girl was roughed up and pepper sprayed by police investigating a late night party earlier this month.
The girl's mother said her daughter suffered a broken wrist, received numerous bruises on her legs and continues to suffer from headaches since the incident.
Esther Durex, an 11th-grade student and member of the Attleboro High School track team, said she was struck multiple times by police officers who stopped and questioned her after she left an Oct. 12 party on Leedham Street that she had attended with her brother.
Police had been called to investigate a loud party at the dwelling, according to a police report.
However, the girl's complaint dramatically contrasts with a police account that describes the teenager as intoxicated and disorderly. Police charged the girl with assaulting the two arresting officers.
Both the girl and her mother deny the charges and point to hospital reports and blood tests taken shortly after the student's release that showed no presence drugs or alcohol in her system.
The 5-foot, 4-inch student, who wore a splint on her left wrist in an interview with The Sun Chronicle on Friday, said she has suffered headaches since the incident.
The girl, the daughter of Ecuadorian parents, is facing multiple charges in juvenile court as a result of the incident.
Martha Herrera, the girl's mother, said she has met with a representative of the Attleboro Police Department, which is probing the alleged beating.
A police spokesman confirmed the mother's complaint is being investigated, but declined to comment on the family's charges.
Durex said she was planning to spend the night at home watching TV and doing her homework, but decided to attend a party about two blocks from her home at her mother's and brother's urging. But upon arriving after 9 p.m., the girl said she began feeling uncomfortable and noted that some of the young people at the party were drinking in addition to talking and listening to music.
"It wasn't my scene," said the girl, who is a former Miss Teen Rhode Island contestant and a member of a high school service club that raises contributions for needy children overseas.
She said she decided to leave, but waited for her brother to return from accompanying others who were being taken home from the party.
It got late, and Durex said she decided to walk home after a police officer came to the house shortly after 1 a.m. to investigate a noise complaint.
But while leaving, Durex said she encountered two police officers who asked her where she was going and whether she was coming from the party. The girl said she first began answering questions, but refused to give her address and declined an officer's offer to give her a ride home.
When Durex was asked why, she said she told the officers that she "didn't trust" cops.
What happened next is the subject of starkly contradictory accounts.
The teenager claims the police officers became increasingly antagonistic and continued to ask her questions. At one point she said she emptied her pockets of a small amount of change after the officers questioned what she had in her pockets.
Frightened, she said she backed away from the officers until she came up against a cruiser.
"I felt very intimidated," she said. "I started crying because I felt scared."
At that point, Durex said, the police told her she was under arrest and one officer tried to place a handcuff on her right wrist. She said she then began to resist and cry out repeatedly for help.
During the struggle, Durex said she was struck repeatedly in the legs, sprayed with pepper spray and felt a "stinging" blow to her head. She said her left ear was bloodied and that the encounter left a lump on the side of her head.
Fearing more serious injury, Durex said she finally stopped struggling and was cuffed and placed in the rear of a squad car.
The police report of the incident gives a far different account.
Police say the girl appeared drunk or intoxicated by drugs and that she was combative and screaming. The girl ignored their pleas to calm down, they said, and kicked one of the officers and struck the second with her knee.
The police report listed officers Matthew Cook and Christopher Ulbrich as the victims.
At one point, the report says, the girl walked out into the middle of the street with a car approaching, creating a safety hazard.
Durex denies assaulting either officer or wandering into the road, although she admits shouting for help.
According to the police report, a police dispatcher fielded three calls from neighborhood residents about the same time for a woman screaming.
The police report acknowledged that the girl was struck in the legs with a baton and sprayed with pepper spray in an attempt to subdue her.
After the struggle, the girl said she was driven to the Attleboro police station. But she said she had trouble getting out of the police cruiser because her left leg felt "numb."
Herrera said she approved her daughter's attending the party, but asked that she and her brother be home "in a couple of hours."
But Herrera, who works six days a week cleaning private homes and businesses, said she fell asleep and awakened about 1 a.m. to discover they had not returned home.
A few minutes later, she managed to reach Durex on her cell phone and that her daughter said she expected to be home soon.
When she did not appear within a few minutes, Herrera said she tried to call her daughter's cell phone several times, only to get no answer.
In the meantime, Herrera said her husband began frantically driving about the area in an effort to find her their daughter.
Herrera said she received a call about an hour later saying that Durex was being held at the police station. Herrera said she and her husband brought the girl to Sturdy Memorial Hospital, where she received treatment and underwent blood tests.
A hospital evaluation of the girl shortly after the incident appears to contradict statements in the police report that the girl had been high on drugs or alcohol.
A hospital report of her visit, provided to The Sun Chronicle by Herrera, said Durex was cooperative and did not appear to be intoxicated. The blood tests, conducted about two hours after police were sent to investigate the party, failed to show the presence of alcohol or drugs.
Herrera said that when she was notified by phone that her daughter had been arrested, she came to the station to find her daughter crying and in pain. She said she took her daughter to the emergency room, where she spent several hours receiving treatment.
The hospital report also indicated that the girl had a non-displaced fracture of the right wrist, as well as bruises on her forearms, left thigh, right calf, left ear and a minor head injury.
"She's a good girl," Herrera said of her daughter, who takes honors courses and participates in both spring and winter track at the high school. She is also involved in a drive to collect backpacks filled with school supplies to be sent to students in Pakistan.
Police Capt. David Proia said the department is "actively investigating" Herrera's complaint.
He said he could not comment further because of the girl's juvenile status and pending court action.
Proia did confirm that police were dispatched to a report of a loud party on Leedham Street about 1:40 a.m. and encountered a young woman and that an arrest resulted.
Proia said there was a struggle during the arrest and that the female suspect complained of an injury. The juvenile was charged with being a disorderly person, disturbing the peace and assaulting two police officers.
Peter Manning, professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston, said it is difficult to assess such an incident based on second-hand reports.
However, he said it is normal for police officers to attempt to control a situation and bring it to a swift conclusion.
That scenario can become more complicated, however, when citizens opt not to comply readily with officers' instructions, he said.
"If a person resists, this may tend to escalate into the police exerting more control," Manning said.
Herrera said she is considering legal action against the police department.
However, Manning said that in the absence of a third party or other evidence that corroborates a citizen's claim, obtaining a favorable verdict can be very difficult.