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

And taxpayers will foot the bill for this lawsuit, which shouldn’t have had to been filed! When are we going to use our intelligence to help children, instead of cuffing them, scarring them, or or treating them as criminals? This is inexcusable! And, as a citizen of KY, I am ashamed of the lack of compassion, lack of resources, lack of equality, and the abundance of stupidity in dealing with our children! What an embarrassment that adults choose to resort to such remedial acts of authority.

Anonymous

The kids at the back of the pack get last pickings, or they wouldn't be special and perhaps troubled. The normal kids get charter schools. Others are home schooled.

Anonymous

I wonder how much of the money those kids received.

Anonymous

Departments should have to require individual officers to carry personal malpractice insurance. If they are “too risky” individually or if Department’s policy is “too risky” they’ll be uninsurable. Not a taxpayer cost and we don’t have bad officers jumping from dept to depart.

Anonymous

Someone should do the same thing to that nasty no good for nothing cop

Anonymous

Speaking from a position of experience (which assumably most of you are not). Law enforcement plays a critical role in removing students who are an actual threat to themselves or others. Once you have been hit by a flying desk, had a student bite your arm so hard it breaks the skin, or you've had a student spit in your face, I'll welcome your opinion.
Unsurprisingly, I haven't seen too many solutions to the problem offered in these comments either. Trust me, educators and LEOs are open to your suggestions.

Anonymous

Very good, a police officer afraid of a 5 or 6 year child is a coward and a a..hole

Anonymous

At some point parents need to take responsibility for sending children into schools who they know have anger issues, hit other children and teachers, bite, and are out of control. Granted some children do have disabilities which make it difficult for them in a public environment, however, that does not mean we endanger the welfare of other students or teachers. If a police officer was following appropriate guidelines set out to protect the safety of others, regardless of the age of the individual, to ensure the child being restrained was safe and others what is the harm. We cannot just allow someone, regardless of age, to engage in that manner causing harm to themselves and others. Parents need to have more readily access to facilities designed to cope with their child needs when they have children who are running out of classrooms, beating up others, throwing things, and require additional assistance. Public school is not the best suitable environment for children with specialized needs. Parents need tot take this into consideration when enrolling their children and take a realistic consideration of their child’s abilities.

Anonymous

DeVos doesn’t belong in the class room -

Kate Baxter

I can't believe that this was done in the 21st century? What is wrong with this school? these teachers? What is wrong with this country?

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