Now, after video of the confrontation went viral, it has become the latest flash point in the battle over mask mandates. Hundreds of threats have flooded Logan, forcing the officer who Tasered Kitts to go off active duty for his safety and prompting a school system to declare a lockdown on Thursday, the Logan Daily News reported.
Critics, including some GOP politicians in Ohio, have seized on the case to bolster their argument that the government has gone too far in issuing restrictions meant to slow the spread of a virus that has killed at least 204,000 Americans.
“I live in a society where men tase women in the back for not wearing a mask. And other men sit by doing NOTHING!” wrote state Rep. Nino Vitale (R) on Facebook. “I am ashamed that we treat people, especially women this way.”
Kitts’s lawyers, meanwhile, insist she was not breaking any pandemic rules. “Ms. Kitts was obviously alone with her children, outdoors, at a distance of much greater than six feet from anyone else,” attorney Maurice A. Thompson told WCMH television. “Thus, she broke no Ohio law, not even the governor’s own legally dubious health directives upon which the school relied.”
Authorities, though, say they were merely enforcing statewide restrictions in a state that has recorded more than 150,000 covid-19 cases and more than 4,700 deaths to date.
“People who are judging this school, this officer — they are trying to follow the guidelines of the Ohio High School Athletic Association with the sole purpose of wanting the kids to play,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said at a Thursday news conference, the Daily News reported.
The confrontation happened on Wednesday at Logan High School, police said, where a crowd had gathered to watch seventh- and eighth-grade football games.
School resource officer Chris Smith, who was working the game in part to ensure that fans and players followed statewide pandemic guidelines, approached Kitts and asked her to mask up. Kitts, argued that she did not have to because she has asthma.
Smith told her that if she didn’t wear a mask, she would have to leave the football stadium, police said. When “several attempts to get her to leave” failed, Smith told Kitts she was under arrest for trespassing and told her to put her hands behind her back, Logan police said.
That’s when a bystander began filming the scene. As Kitts repeatedly yelled, “Don’t touch me,” Smith tried to wrestle her hands behind her back. Eventually, he Tasered her, handcuffed her and dragged her out of the stands. “Come on, it’s just a mask,” someone in the crowd yelled.
Kitts was charged with criminal trespassing and released at the scene, police said. She was also later charged with resisting arrest and obstructing official business, WCMH reported. The department emphasized on Thursday that the charges were not specifically for violating mask rules, calling the use of the Taser “an unfortunate incident for everyone involved.”
“It is important to note, the female was not arrested for failing to wear a mask, she was asked to leave the premises for continually violating school policy,” the agency said in a statement.
That argument did little to quell anger, though. As the video spiraled through Facebook and YouTube, abuse flowed at Logan officials. At one point on Friday, authorities were flooded with more than 300 irate calls per hour, Logan Police Captain Ryan Gabriel told WSYX television. Skylar Steward, the father of Kitts’s son, filed a complaint with police alleging they had overstepped.
“This isn’t about a mask,” Steward said, according to WSYX. “This is about control. It is government overreach.”
Smith was placed on limited duty over death threats, police told WCMH. After a number of angry calls, the Logan-Hocking School District took security measures on Thursday, officials said.
“We had a couple of calls come in that was pretty threatening so we went on a lockout status district wide,” said Logan-Hocking Superintendent Monte Bainter, the Daily News reported. “We’re not allowing anyone from the outside to come in.”
Kitts’s attorneys say police misapplied state law, which provides an exemption from mask mandates for those with medical conditions.
“Ms. Kitts explained to the policy officer and administrators that she has asthma, but they ignored her,” Thompson said in a statement to WCMH. “Their position was that un-masked asthmatic must leave the stadium, [which] is not consistent with any directive or other law.”
But Bainter said the rules are clear. “Bottom line is we require you to wear a mask whether it’s in school or at events,” Bainter told the Daily News. “You have to wear a mask, and if you don’t wear a mask then you’re asked to leave."
All the vitriol won’t shift the school district’s policy, he said.
“I’m not going to change that. I’m not,” he commented. “You have to wear masks to events. That’s the guidelines, that’s the rules, and that’s what we have to do."