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Alabama band director tased by police for not stopping his students' performance

Johnny Mims, 39, says he is still recovering physically after he was tased by police in Birmingham, Ala. He said he continues to be haunted by the incident.
Juandalynn Givan
Johnny Mims, 39, says he is still recovering physically after he was tased by police in Birmingham, Ala. He said he continues to be haunted by the incident.

Updated September 19, 2023 at 3:38 PM ET

What began as a routine band performance of Talkin' Out the Side of Your Neck by Cameo at an Alabama high school football game ended in a troubling confrontation when a police officer tased the marching band director for refusing to stop the music.

The altercation occurred Thursday around 9 p.m. local time after a game at Jackson-Olin High School in Birmingham, Ala.

Minor High School band director Johnny Mims, 39, and his ensemble of 145 students were about a minute away from being done with their final song when a police officer approached the podium. According to both Mims and the Birmingham Police Department, officers asked Mims to stop the performance so they could clear out the stadium. Mims responded that the song was about to end and the performance was agreed on by both schools.

"Nothing we were doing at the time was being a danger to the community, fans or the school," Mims told NPR on Monday. "Everyone was enjoying themselves. That's the part I'm having a hard time grappling with."

As the students finished their performance, officers attempted to arrest Mims for not complying. Police said the band director "refused" to place his hands behind his back and allegedly pushed an arresting officer.

But Mims said he was simply caught off guard, adding that it was difficult to see who was grabbing him because the stadium's lights went out. Moments later, an officer pulled out a stun gun and tased Mims. Birmingham police said it happened once, but Mims insists he was tased up to three times.

The entire confrontation was witnessed by dozens of students, parents and faculty members. On Tuesday, the Birmingham Police Department released body-worn camera footage of the incident.

Mims was sent to the hospital, which police said was standard protocol "after this type of incident." When Mims was discharged, he was taken to jail on charges of disorderly conduct, harassment and resisting arrest. Mims returned home Friday on bail.

Juandalynn Givan, a lawyer for Mims, called the incident "an alarming abuse of power" and called for the officers involved in the incident to be put on administrative leave until further investigation. She added that Mims plans to take legal action against the police department.

"This case highlights the urgent need for police reform, training and the protection of every citizen's rights," Given said.

The Birmingham Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But on Friday, the department said in a statementthat its Internal Affairs Division investigates all incidents where an officer uses force during an arrest.

Days later, the altercation continues to draw anger from across the country, with some questioning the use of force and others reeling from what they saw firsthand Thursday night or on videos circulated across social media.

Mims has been a band director at Minor High since 2018. He credits his passion for music to his teachers, who introduced him to the violin, cello and saxophone. That's why he pursued music education and became a teacher.

Mims is still recovering physically from the arrest. He said he continues to be haunted by the incident, specifically seeing his students scream and cry as he was tased.

"I'm a Christian guy and I'm called to forgive but this situation makes me more apprehensive about the police," he said. "You may not know what their intentions might be even when you're doing something positive."

Mims added that he is on administrative leave with pay as part of protocol while the school district investigates what happened.

Walter Gonsoulin, superintendent of Jefferson County Schools, said in a statement, "I am in the process of gathering all the facts and feel it would be inappropriate to comment further until that process is complete. I urge everyone not to jump to conclusions."

Tasers are among the most common use of force in police departments, according to the FBI. But there is very little data on the federal or local level of how often they are deployed or turn fatal. A Reuters analysis from 2020 documented more than 1,000 cases of deaths related to police use of tasers, largely between 2000 and 2018, and found that Black Americans were disproportionately impacted.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.