Children Cruelly Handcuffed Win Big Settlement Against the Police in Kentucky

On Thursday, a sheriff’s office in Kentucky has agreed to pay more than $337,000 for the painful and unconstitutional handcuffing of elementary school students with disabilities. The two plaintiffs, both of whom were children of color and both of whom have disabilities, were so small that the deputy sheriff locked the handcuffs around the children’s biceps, forcing their hands behind their backs. 

One of the cuffings was recorded in a video that went viral. The footage of the little boy, identified as “S.R.,” painfully squirming and sobbing in handcuffs drew national media attention and sparked debate over the role of law enforcement officers in schools.

Despite this video, and information that the deputy sheriff had handcuffed several other elementary school children — one as young as five — the Kenton County Sheriff’s Office insisted that the handcuffings were a proper use of force and refused to reconsider its policies. The ACLU, along with the Children’s Law Center and Dinsmore & Shohl, filed suit. In October 2017, a federal district court ruled that the punishment was “an unconstitutional seizure and excessive force.” 

After the handcuffings, both children had repeated nightmares, started bed-wetting, and would not let their mothers out of their sight. Both families left the school district, and moved to areas where their children could receive the treatment and accommodations they needed. 

The settlement comes as the national debate heats up over whether to boost the number of law enforcement officers in schools. The plaintiffs in this case were small children in need of support and understanding. They needed someone who understood the effects of their disability on their behavior and could help them with appropriate accommodations. Law enforcement does not have those tools.  Indeed, the tools they do have — handcuffs, batons, pepper spray, and guns — are particularly inappropriate and harmful in the school environment.

There is no evidence that putting police officers in schools makes children any safer. What we do know is that 1.7 million children attend public schools that have cops but no counselors. Three million students attend schools with law enforcement officers, but no nurses.  And six million students attend schools with law enforcement officers, but no school psychologists. 

The brunt of these staffing choices falls most heavily and students with disabilities — especially students of color with disabilities. Students with disabilities are three times more likely than students without disabilities to be referred to law enforcement. Black girls with disabilities are 3.33 times more likely to be referred to law enforcement, and Black boys with disabilities are 4.58 times more likely to be referred to law enforcement. 

The six-figure settlement is a small victory in the context of all the work that remains. But it highlights the harm of having law enforcement in schools — especially for young students with disabilities.  We hope it will also open the door to more thoughtful discussions of how schools and our country can best support and educate our youth.

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Anonymous

If the offending officers were sued personally I think it would make a much bigger impact, but unfortunately it is the tax payers that will be footing the bill yet again for incompetent and unconstitutional police work.

Anonymous

If they were following police policy under departmental guidelines, then the police officer was doing his job. Are you suggesting the police officer had a whistle-blower obligation to report unconstitutional police work, or be personally and financially responsible?

Anonymous

I agree with you totally. Many of the bad cop know there is no direct consequences for how and when they abuse citizens, especially children.. They need to give up that blue gang mentally and be directly held accountable for bad behavior..

Anonymous

Yes. The individual officers should be held accountable... regardless of department policy. The greatest barriers to police accountability are 1) police are allowed to make their own rules and investigate potential violations in an opaque system separate from the rules of due process and 2) an exaggerated interpretation of officers' qualified immunity from personal responsibility for their actions. Both of these are the exact opposite of accountability. If these cases were ever to be heard by a typical jury, I think most people would agree that the officers' actions would be considered unreasonable and a violation of citizens' rights. Officers avoid accountability because the current system fails to hold them accountable. So this will happen again and again.

Anonymous

It would make an impact, but maybe not the one you intend. There's protections under the law regarding employees acting negligently or recklessly under their employer's order or authority. This makes sense for a number of reasons, two of which are deeper pockets and placing the blame high enough to matter.
The sheriff's office has more ability to pay the damages awarded the plaintiffs. Juries will get for plaintiffs as much as possible, usually, and individuals are cash poor compared to corporations or government.
Additionally, if this was a policy, the employee (cop) was acting for the benefit, at the behest and on the time of the employer. If the cop is sued, there's no placing blame and punishment where it belongs.

Should this have happened? Never. There's no right these officers had to treat the children this way. But the punishment went where it should have, despite these grown adults acting reprehensibly.

Anonymous

If they're tired of paying for lawsuits then those taxpayers need to vote in somebody worth a damn, rather than just the guy who says he's "tough on crime". Then again, we're talking about the state that keeps electing Mitch McConnell, so they get what they deserve.

Anonymous

@2 November, 12:46. Suggest? No. Outright demanding that. If a public servant does anything else is nothing more than accessory after the fact. That exact thing is a crime in our armed forces under UCMJ. Seeing an unlawful act and taking no action is a crime in our armed forces, making the accessory subject to the exact same penalties as the criminal. Why do our hero worship seeking police not exist under a similar law?

Anonymous

The lawsuits - for personal assets - should be directed towards the top management of police departments and to the government attorneys not setting proper guidelines. Attorney General, Supreme Court Justice and Nuremberg prosecutor, Robert Jackson, discredited the “Nuremberg Defense” - so “following orders” is not a legal defense during wartime or peacetime for police officers, prison guards, interrogators or doctors. Unconstitutional practices are never legitimate and never protected by Sovereign Immunity. Taxpayers are only liable for legitimate activities. Everyone better watch out!

David Drake

I could not agree with you more. Suing departments does nothing. They don't feel that burn they just request more money each year and bother tax payers more. The law suits need to target the officers personally and be life running. Eg loss of home and other properties to pay the awards to get the message across.

Ajitriturado

I'm sure the money and more has been spent and will continue to be needed for counseling services and therapy for PTSD related to the trauma inflicted by these clueless, heartless people.

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