Update On The Shaquanda Cotton Case

Update On The Shaquanda Cotton Case


Southwest Bureau Chief for the Chicago Tribune, Howard Witt, just contacted me with an important update about the remarkably unjust, race-motivated sentencing of Shaquanda Cotton in Paris, TX.

Just in case you haven’t heard the backstory, I’ll let Shaquanda tell you herself from the “About Me” section on her blog Free Shaquanda Cotton:

I am a 14-year-old black freshman who shoved a hall monitor at Paris High School in a dispute over entering the building before the school day had officially begun and was sentenced to 7 years in prison. I have no prior arrest record, and the hall monitor–a 58-year-old teacher’s aide–was not seriously injured. I was tried in March 2006 in the town’s juvenile court, convicted of “assault on a public servant” and sentenced by Lamar County Judge Chuck Superville to prison for up to 7 years, until I turn 21. Just three months earlier, Superville sentenced a 14-year-old white girl, convicted of arson for burning down her family’s house, to probation.

Now onto the update from the Chicago Tribune:

HOUSTON — The sentences of many of the 4,700 delinquent youths now being held in Texas’ juvenile prisons might have been arbitrarily and unfairly extended by prison authorities and thousands could be freed in a matter of weeks as part of a sweeping overhaul of the scandal-plagued juvenile system, state officials say.

Jay Kimbrough, a special master appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to investigate the system after allegations surfaced that some prison officials were coercing imprisoned youths for sex, said he would assemble a committee to review the sentence of every youth in the system.

And about Shaquanda specifically…

Among the leading candidates for early release is Shaquanda Cotton, a 14-year-old black girl from the small east Texas town of Paris, who was sent to prison for up to 7 years for shoving a hall monitor at her high school while other young white offenders convicted of more serious crimes received probation in the town’s courts.

Shaquanda’s story was the subject of a March 12 Tribune article that triggered hundreds of Internet blog articles and thousands of message board postings and led to a nationwide letter-writing campaign to the Texas governor decrying perceived racial discrimination in her case.

Cotton, now 15, has been incarcerated at a youth prison in Brownwood, Texas, for the last year on a sentence that could run until her 21st birthday. But like many of the other youths in the system, she is eligible to earn earlier release if she achieves certain social, behavioral and educational milestones while in prison.

But officials at the Ron Jackson Correctional Complex have repeatedly extended Shaquanda’s sentence because she refuses to admit her guilt and because she was found with contraband in her cell–an extra pair of socks.

Socks? I guess Texas is like a whole other country.

This is good news people. Very good news. And I hope we’ll all continue to blog about this story so the momentum against these racist incarcerations will build and get them reversed quickly.

And apparently, we’ve already had an impact…

If you had Googled the black girl’s name, Shaquanda Cotton, the day before the story was published on the front page of the March 12 edition of the Tribune, you would have gotten zero results. On Monday afternoon, there were more than 35,000 hits.

The story has been picked up on more than 300 blogs around the country, many of them concerned with African-American affairs. It has generated thousands of postings to Internet message boards.

It was the top story on digg.com, a site that ranks Internet pages by user popularity and recommendations. It became the most-viewed and most-e-mailed story on chicagotribune.com more than a week after it was originally published, which is particularly remarkable because most news stories on the site automatically expire after just a few days.

And now the story has jumped across the ethernet into the physical world: Dozens of talk-radio stations across the nation were buzzing about Shaquanda last week, protests on her behalf were held in Paris, a petition- and letter-drive aimed at Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the judge in the case, Chuck Superville, is under way, and civil rights leaders from the NAACP and the ACLU to the Rev. Al Sharpton are weighing whether to get involved.

I leave you with three words: Free Shaquanda Cotton.

  • http://crapomatic.blogspot.com/ Dyre42

    You pegged that right Justin. Texas is like a different country. Generally speaking that is a positive thing in the areas of music, cuisine, culture, and art but the criminal justice system here has repeatedly defied common sense. I’ve lived in “Red States” my whole life (VA, TN, GA, FL) and only in TX have I felt that what passes for justice is at least an embarrassment and worse a gross miscarriage.

  • BenG


    I don’t understand how one could be positive in ‘general’ about a state that has such a horrible situation presently going on in such a serious place as its juvinile court system where: “allegations surfaced that some prison officials were coercing imprisoned youths for sex…”

    If I had kids in that school system I’d be a bit more alarmed than that. But thanks for your post, it was good to hear an honest opinion from somebody there.

  • Tom Moore

    This is just another case of a newspaper sensationalizing a story to sell papers. The Chicago Tribune published only the detail of the story that would attract attention. They didn’t mention that the hall monitor had to go to the hospital. They didn’t mention that Shaquanda was offered a “deal” but insisted on a jury trial. The judge had little choice under Texas law once the case came to trial and she was found guilty. They didn’t make clear that she was given an indeterminate sentance not 7 years. The juvenile system in Texas is designed to focus on rehabilitation and the amount of time served is based on admitting criminal actions and cooperating with athorities, neither of which Shaqanda has been willing to do. The NAACP has asked that she be released but has carefully stayed away from the facts of the case because they know she was guilty.
    The youth prison system is broken in Texas but that is a seperate problem from the Paris Independent school district which in every case investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that has been ruled on was found not to practice discrimination

  • DosPeros

    Thank you, Tom. I suspected sensationalization and selective facts were being deployed here to make a good story. (And of course, to bolster certain political agendas – Tawana Brawley meet Shaquanda.) I won’t quite put it on the skam-level of Leonard Peltier or Abu Jamal – but she is young and probably doesn’t have a publisher yet for her poetry. There is an old saying amoung criminal defense lawyers, “You can ask for justice or you can ask for mercy, but you can’t ask for both.” It sounds like Shaquanda asked for justice when she should have pled for mercy. Here’s the Texas the Lesson – who’s going to be the next one to shove the hall monitor?

  • Eddie Keator

    Wow… Texas gave us George Walker Bush… lawmakers in that state aren’t all that stupid, are they?

    Equality even in passing judgement… a white girl gets probation for burning down a house and this girl gets 7 years? For shoving for what might have been a jerk…

    I can’t wait for her to be freed, then turn around and sue the state, the country, the city of Paris Texas, and the school system for abuse of power.

    This looks real bad for Texans, since I know a few Texans personally and they are NOT inhuman. In fact, they are caring, intellegent, people who have wisdom beyond their years. But you wouldn’t know it from how the lack of equality exists in the state of Texas.

  • Monica

    Eddie –

    So you know a couple of Texans and they aren’t inhuman. Wow, who would’ve thunk it? Who would’ve ever thought that of all the millions upon millions of people who live in Texas (myself included), there just might be a few that aren’t the root of all evil. Here, let me show you how bad your statement is by changing just a few words: “I know a few black guys and they are not inhuman. In fact they are caring intelligent people who have wisdom beyond their years”. Lovely, huh?

    To address the point of the post -> this appears to be a serious miscarriage of justice and I hope it gets resolved soon. I’m not sure if the problem is due to racism or not, but regardless, sending a child to prison for shoving someone (considering it is her first offense) seems completely inappropriate.

  • DosPeros

    In his rush to save a little black girl from the evil of Texas, Justin may not be looking for an explanation from the otherside. Here’s one: With a mother like this who needs enemies. I will do everything I can to find the public record of Shaquanda case and make a impartial judgment on my own – without getting swept up in the hype – which so far, all this is.

    By Mary Madewell The Paris News

    Published March 25, 2007

    County Judge Chuck Superville says he fears for the community’s safety and is calling for the national media and other organizations to investigate the facts before drawing conclusions about the Shaquanda Cotton case.

    The judge said a March 12 story in The Chicago Tribune unfairly painted the community as racist and a recent protest as well as the threat of future protests by organized groups with national media coverage could “spin this thing out of control.�

    Superville said he has refrained from commenting until now because of his position as the judge in the Cotton case, but that he believes he has a higher duty as county judge to maintain order in the community.

    “I call on the media and others involved to go to the public record to get the facts of the case before they rush to judgment,� Superville said Saturday.

    Superville said after a three-day jury trial, which found that Cotton committed an act of juvenile delinquency � namely assault causing bodily injury against a public servant � he determined the best place for her would be Texas Youth Commission.

    “If Shaquanda had been white, the outcome would have been the same,� Superville said. “My decision was based on facts and law and I am confident this was the correct decision based on the facts I was presented.�

    The March 2006 case is on appeal with the Texarkana Court of Appeals. The court conducted a 10-hour hearing in August 2006 to consider a request that Cotton be released on bond.

    The judge said Cotton could have been released at that time but would not speculate why the appellate court did not grant the bond. The judge said he presented the facts of the case and that attorneys for both the prosecution and for Cotton presented arguments.

    Superville said he gave the 14-year old an indeterminate sentence up to seven years � her 21st birthday.

    “Once I set the indeterminate sentence, Shaquanda holds the key to her jail cell,� Superville said. “It is up to the child and TYC.�

    In explaining the juvenile process, Superville said after a jury makes it’s finding, the judge determines the disposition.

    “I am bound by law to ask lawyers whether or not reasonable effort has been made to prevent or eliminate the need for the child to be removed from her home,� Superville said.

    “I also must determine whether or not there is enough family support to assist the child in successfully completing terms and conditions of probation,� Superville said.

    “Thirdly, I must determine whether or not it is in the child’s best interest to be removed from the home,� the judge said.

    “Both lawyers presented evidence on those points,� Superville explained. “The county attorney put on a substantial amount of evidence that Shaquanda had been a persistent behavior problem at school and that the mother failed to cooperate at every turn.�

    “I asked if there was anything that could be done that had not already been done and the repeated answer was ‘no,’� Superville said.

    Superville said reports from Lamar County Juvenile Probation Department also weighed on his decision. Before a juvenile trial which could result in probation, the probation department conducts a fact-finding survey.

    “The juvenile officer said the mother refused to cooperate and said he had no reason to believe the mother would cooperate if Shaquanda received probation,� Superville said.

    “That theme was repeated witness after witness�that the mother made it impossible to help Shaquanda,� Superville said. “She blamed everyone except the child for misbehavior.�

  • Inez Gant

    An extra pair of socks is contraband. That is really great! I’m an 18 year old high school student in Stepenville, TX. This whole situation completly angers me. I wll not stand by and be quiet about something like this. I urge americans to stand up for her and fight to combat predjudice as well as racism in Paris.

  • lintay

    This article was sent to me from a friend. There are points to be made on all sides. But, I think that the Parent has to bare some of the responsibility. If a school and in this case juvenile services contact the parent to solve problems associated with a child, then it is the parents’ duty to step up and help that child. Don’t refuse to cooperate, step back listen to the concerns. Make your decision, but if you choose wrong the child pays for it. Like in this case refusing to cooperate could mean a long 7 years out of this childs life. Which will introduce her to maybe the not so pleasant aspects of juvenile detention. It seems opportunities were not taken seriously, and the end result was a possible 7 years lost. I feel for this girl, her family and the community. Hopefully the courts and the system will alter the sentence and allow this child to return to her family. Justice has been served a year is enough.

  • besmav

    Many of the blogs I have read thus far, haven’t mentioned the fact that Ms. Cotton(a teenager) was wrong in shoving an older adult(58year old monitor)in the first place.
    In reviewing on how this could of been all been avoided, has to do with copping skills. It appears that neither side used the proper skills to advert all the inuindos,name calling, and marches. Maybe the parents were responsible for the entire situation, by not providing their child copping skills.
    The other point I want to make is that young people have a big problem with authority. I don’t think many adults would have allowed a teenager to shove them, without something happening.
    Where is young people respect for the older adult?

  • Eve

    I won’t add all of my comments just yet, but know that the whole picture has yet to be painted.
    I feel pity for Shaquanda Cotton. Considering all that her own family has to offer her… IMO she just might have a chance at a real life now, with guidance.
    If she realises accountability, responsibility, and that if she tries she can better herself through all of this… she might have a chance.

    Just by doing web searches today, I followed these links:
    keywords: shaquanda cotton survived by obituary
    produced her recently deceased father Mickey David Thomas Sr.’s obituary at


    I then used her Father’s name for a search and found this article on her brother, Mickey David Thomas Broken Bow: link

    I followed that up with a visit to AR’s death row roster and found that no execution date has been set for her brother yet.

    Like I said, the whole picture has yet to be painted.

    Why won’t her Mom release her school records?

    Why wouldn’t her Mom let her plead out in the first place?

    Maybe her being in the TYC’s hands for a while isn’t such a horrible thing. I would not wish incarceration on any child, but just maybe the TYC is better for her than being in the grips of her own family.


  • Tenisha

    Eve, I’m not sure whether your view is that her home and upringing have gotten Ms Cotton where she is but if so my reply to that is what does that have to do with Ms Cotton receiving a prison sentence for her actions when persons of other races who commited crimes of a more serious offense simply received probation??

    The underlying issue is with the justice system in this town–not child rearing.

  • Eve

    Hi Tenisha,

    It is just so hard to see all of the sides when we are naturally allowing emotion to play a role.
    From everything I have read inre to the Shaquanda Cotton case, Her defense asked the judge to determine her sentence (as opposed to letting the jury make a recommendation).The Mom also rejected a plea that would have allowed her daughter out on Probation, Her mother, Creola Cotton, stated in court that she nor her daughter would adhere to any of the conditions of probation that Judge Superville offered.
    Judge Superville’s offer was two years of informal probation, which means she would certain conditions to meet, but would be in the custody of her mother, and after successful completion of the requirements of her probation, the charge would not become a part of her permanent record.
    At that point his choices were to place her on probation (after her mother had already stated that she would not follow the requirements), or send her to TYC for an indeterminate sentence not to exceed her 21st birthday.
    That sentence is the precise sentence that roughly 90% of the youthful offenders in the state receive when they are sent to TYC.
    She would have already been released if she has successfully completed her rehabilitation program, but TYC officials have stated that Ms. Cotton has not even gotten to stage one of the process because she will not admit that what she did was wrong (even though she stated in court and on her blog that she pushed the teacher’s aide).

    It is true that this town is known for strict justice. More than one death sentence has been rendered from Lamar County…. but not by judge Superville as far as I can tell by researching.

    Like I said before, I wish no child would ever have to be incarcerated. Unfortunately, there are very few perfect environments at “home”, and hers is certainly FAR from perfect. My prayer is that this child is given a chance to grow up. My prayer is that her apple seed lands far from the tree……..


  • http://www.donklephant.com Justin Gardner
  • Zate’zaah

    THIS MESSAGE GOES TO EVERYONE INCLUDING EVE ESPECIALLY! I am personally from Paris, Tx where i have lived all my life. I have also graduated from Paris High School just last year, June 2, 2006. I am a African-American Young lady that has top goals in life. I was Paris High’s Homecoming Queen of 2005!Now, on top of the comments you left on Shaquanda Cotton’s case and stating family ,(well her mother) played a role in this childs life has really nothing to do with her case in this matter. For some years Paris has been a town where AA get the worse punishment when it comes to criminal cases than anything that i have ever seen. All of the criminal cases lately has been on imprisonment of marijuanna. Now a young man by the name of keon Mitchelle and also a man we called “Mann” was senteced. Keon with life plus-five years and Man with 200 years now how does this make any sense we as Paris Resident’s do not know. Keon has never been caught with anything. But on the other hand you have a “white guy” that lives in paris tx and is kin to someone in our courts system that get’s “Probation” for KILLING a grandmother and a grandson with a motor vehicle and gets Probation but has to send Christmas Cards to the family. NOW HOW FAIR IS THIS? Paris is a racist town when it comes to such things as what i mentioned and the things that we AA’s have to deal with here doesn’t make any since at all. Now we as AA need to stick up for our communities and our Black sisters and brothers and all of the negative comments that you have should be kept to yourself. I understand everyone has opinions but in these matters stick up for what’s right. Now killing someone and just having small substances is way far two different things and i believe it those men and others that has taken the stand to help the Paris community i Thank You, words can’t express what this means. To the AA’s that are in Paris TX stay strong and keep the Faith because Justice has been served to Shaquanda on 03/30/07 for Mrs. Shaquanda i wish her well in life now we need to get JUSTICE to those men that are left behind Bars!!!!!!!!

    Sincerely A Strong Black Women,



  • John Doe

    Shaquanda Cotton was tried by a racially mixed jury and found guilty. The cops that arrested her and the prosecutor that tried her all found her guilty. She was not an innocent girl. She had been on probation before and had been suspended from school on more than one occasion. The 58 year old teacher she assaulted was crippled with arthritis in her entire body and had to go to the hospital after she was slammed into a brick wall by Shaquanda. Her sentence was not for seven years. It allowed for her to be released any time she showed remorse for her actions or got her act together.
    Don’t blame the judge that listened to all the teachers at Shaquanda’s school, the cops, the prosecutor, and a racially mixed jury. Blame Shaquanda’s mother for allowing her to behave so horribly.
    All criminal trials are public record.
    Check the facts.

  • honey

    Joe. Shaquanda was not tried bya racially mixed jury. One black don’t make a mix. Cops ar not supposed to determine guilt but in this case the cop/school teacher Brad Ruthart did find her guilty before she was tried. She had never been on probation before. Why lie on a child? Cleda Brownfield was not slammed into a wall and she had no injuries. It was not the childs fault if Brownfield had arthritis. If she was that frail, why would she be chosen to be in charge of teenagers running up and down a hall anyway. She was known for manhandling the kids. The blame is where it should be, on a currupt school,police, and D.A.

  • lady

    Everytime a black woman, man, or kid get in trouble for the first time the racist white bloggers have nothing better to do but to bring up the persons ‘family’ troubles. I know everything starts at home and every child follows what they see, so naturally the cycle with Paris needs to be stopped and it began when this story made national attention. What her family was also wrongfully convicted of has nothing to do with her and thank you EVE for bringing it to the publics attention so now we can work on getting them some help also. People we are not focusing on the problem at hand, its unfortunate that Ms. Cotton had to be the one to get in trouble to wake America up and make an effort to start to fight back. 2000+ years and still going, African Americans have done nothing but sit and take what was given to us, and when we fight back, we’re repremanded, it’s not fair, but hey this is America you know the country that goes over in EVERY other country and kill and fight their people on their soil, and then give them money to come here and live to wipe out the one (AA) race that they (W) shipped here to begin with. So EVE don’t go there about where it starts cause I can write a book on where it has to end. As for all the people who want someone to take the blame and responsibility for our peoples actions, look in your own backyards first, we all have some cleaning to do so why can’t we work together!

  • honey

    Whites have just as many “family troubles” as black people. The only difference in Paris Texas is its a small town and the police, school officials, judges and etc are white and kin folk and friends and kin folk take care of kin folk. But it makes them arrogant and they pretend that their children are perfectly behaved.

    The defense could not have possibly chosen the judge to set punishment rather than the jury. Juvenile law REQUIRES the judge do it. Probation was never offered. The D.A. lied. And since your post, Shaquanda Cotton has been released and it was found that she was being kept imprisoned because she had an extra pair of socks and being required to admit guilt when you have an appeal pending violates your rights. Also, her blog was not actually HER blog. She was in prison when that blog was made. They are not allowed to Blog in prison. I hope your appleseeds land far from the tree.