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.

View comments (78)
Read the Terms of Use

Sherry Cook

I'm not afraid of putting my name here. As soon as I put my son in regular public schools he had a public record at the age of 9 he was handcuffed several times at school and has a juvenile record cause the school didn't know what to do with a child who had severe ADHD and was also bipolar at a young age
Yes he is white and and they had the cops on him everytime he talked out of turn or did anything out of the norm. He was in EC classrooms but that wasn't appropriate responses to his every action. Yes he has problems but not to be cuffed and juvenile court now system. They even removed him from the home because of the behaviors and put him in a group home that took him out of therapy. So where does the cruelty stop????


When you do everyone a favor and homeschool your child.


Consider the state they are in. I am not at all surprised! Worst schools in the country! Disgraceful focus on “sin” and religion as part of education. And this is what that right wing ignorant methodology leads to.


Police in schools keep staff safe. This article only speaks if one side and is so biased its sickening.


Some police may be “Safe”, but just as many may be sadistical creeps in a sadistic aState and a sadistic institution. How can you not see what an enormous ethical and inhuman behavior this police person enacted?


Any school worth it's license knows about CPI training. This involves special training for safe management of disruptive and potentially assaultive behavior. None involves handcuffs. If there are children with behavior issues, then the school needs trained personnel. Not police.


Worth its license, in your opinion. My daughter doesn't have behavior problems so i don't care about CPI. I care that she is getting a decent education and is safe (to include being safe from seriously disturbed children).

David T.

Though the officer was wrong, a portion of the blame lies with the school administrators. Where were they? Why didn't they intervene? You don't need to be a counselor or nurse to realize this is wrong.


Just curious, where's the sympathy and outrage for the teachers who were being assaulted by these kids? Should they have just taken it? Before mainstreaming, these kids would be in special schools with trained staff. Instead, parents insist that they need to be in public schools. You can't have your cake and eat it too!


requiring a personal liability bond for every police officer, and removing the bs shield of Qualified immunity from the legal picture will go a long way to weed out the "bad apples". Also, police organizations that train to create & encourage brutality as policy should be held as corrupt just like the thug gangs they emulate.


Stay Informed