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

"Indeed, the tools they do have — handcuffs, batons, pepper spray, and guns . . ." It's called working with what you're given. Do you feel that they should think outside the box with special needs children?

Anonymous

Yes! They should be working outside the box. These are children for goodness sake! If someone has to tell you that it's not okay to pull their arms behind their backs and handcuff their biceps while the child sobs uncontrollably then you should not be a police officer! If a parent did this, CPS would be involved.

Anonymous

If you are not trained to deal with children with disabilities please do not attempt to hand out guidance. AU children see the world in an entirely different view. My seven students show all kinds of behaviors, but they are never restrained. My team knows the educational and psychological ways to deesclate behaviors. RESTRAINT WAS NOT NECCESARY.

- a SPED teacher that has been trained so can make knowledgeable comments

Anonymous

Maybe those of us with children who behave normally should sue the parents of violent, disruptive, children. We could put it towards tutoring to make up for the classroom time the disruptive children rob our children of and therapy needed because our children are forced to sit in class with violent children and sometimes get hurt by them.

Anonymous

Kintky.

Dr. Timothy Leary

Just let the little imps run wild. That's what they do in France and there's no harm done.

Jane

Nice trolling, Dr. Leary. Are you aware that you’re dead? Tell the Rinpoche I said hi.

Dr. Timothy Leary

You are welcome to rin my poché, Jane.

Deanna Lange

1st, school districts must make educating ALL kids a priority. Students may need evaluation of limitations or ? but then they need proper service. Parents must be communicated with frequently. If districts don't have trained SpEd teachers, they need to pay teachers to get trained or offer scholarships . Grants are maybe available. Police depts. are beginning to learn about autism but have a long way to go. This training should be a priority, even if the towns have to partially use computer modules. Teachers who interact with these students may need extra planning time.

Anonymous

If the kids are actually out of control and a danger to themselves or others how else is the school supposed to keep everyone safe?

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