Kentucky deputy sheriff sued for handcuffing school children
The children, an eight-year-old boy, and a nine-year-old girl, barely more than 50 pounds in weight, were so small that the school resource officer, Kenton County Sheriff’s deputy Kevin Sumner, locked adult-sized handcuffs around their biceps and forced their hands behind their backs, the lawsuit charges. The incidents happened in autumn 2014.
"Shackling children is not okay. It is traumatizing, and in this case it is also illegal," said Susan Mizner, disability counsel for the ACLU, in a statement about Monday’s lawsuit.
A disturbing 0.28-second video taken by a staff member at an elementary school in Covington, Kentucky shows a third-grade Latino boy, identified as SR, being shackled and crying out in pain. Despite having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and a history of trauma, he was handcuffed for 15 minutes.
"You can do what we asked you to, or you can suffer the consequences," the deputy says in the video.
"Ow! That hurts!" the child replies, crying.
"Now sit down in that chair like I asked you to," the deputy says, as the child continues to cry.
The child’s mother, identified in the complaint as TR, said it was heartbreaking to watch her boy suffer because of the experience.
"It's hard for him to sleep, he has anxiety, and he is scared of seeing the officer in the school. School should be a safe place for children. It should be a place they look forward to going to. Instead, this has turned into a continuing nightmare for my son,” TR said about her son.
The second plaintiff in the suit, an African-American girl, identified as LG, was twice handcuffed, and held for 20 minutes and 30 minutes. She has ADHD and other special needs.
Both children were being punished for behavior related to their disabilities. Neither was arrested nor charged with any criminal conduct.
"Using law enforcement to discipline students with disabilities only serves to traumatize children. It makes behavioral issues worse and interferes with the school’s role in developing appropriate educational and behavioral plans for them," said the ACLU’s Mizner.
The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, claims the sheriff’s office and its deputy not only violated regulations of the state’s board of education in using handcuffs, but also violated the Fourth, Eight and 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. Those rights provide protections against search and seizure, against cruel and unusual punishment, and provide equal protection under the law.
The lawsuit adds that the actions of the officer were a violation of the children’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Students with disabilities represent 12 percent of public school students but are 75 percent of all students subjected to physical restraint at school, according to the US Department of Education.
The ACLU said the deputy didn't have adequate training to deal with students who have disabilities and they are seeking additional training for school resource officers, as well as unspecified damages.
Local channel WDRB News talked with the sheriff's department, which said it had not yet received the suit, so it could not yet comment.
WDRB also contacted the school district, which says it's aware of the incident and cooperating with the child's family's legal counsel – and that resource officers are "not called upon to punish or discipline students," but to simply maintain safety.
The suit claims the move violated the children's constitutional rights and the Americans for Disabilities Act.