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

It is easy to Judge what the officer did if you haven’t been exposed to a out of control child hitting , kicking , throwing things etc. at school personnel and other children. The Officer was protecting others and himself against harm.

Anonymous

CPI ( Child Protective Intervention) training for police would be a good start, and CPI holds would be appropriate tools in the situation you described . However with a child with a physical disability one would have to consider the fragility of each child. CPI ( Child Protective Holds), are only recommended on children under 12 years old and involve carefully securing a child’s hands behind their backs until they stop being agitated or struggling or a more violent behavior. A compassionate person would also be de -escalating the child verbally, and encouraging relaxation not terror or trauma.

Anonymous

And they police wonders why children is afraid of them doing this to a child really scares them but this was a nosense. This child has a disabled condition and why didn't a teacher or principal trying talking to the child or work with the child that is what you get paid for. I guess calling the police and they force this child's arm against hi back and the poor baby was in pain how can any cop do this .

Anonymous

They pay out should have been at least ten times as high. How many plaintiffs were there? And how many could have there been too?

Anonymousrobert

ACLU is one of my heros

Anonymous

Handcuffing yhe

Anonymous

The calculated, premeditated PDO'd cruelty of the police in this country echoes the calculated, and premeditated PDO'd cruelty represented by the GOP.

Anonymous

Cuffs are not only used during arrests but used in situations for the officers safety and that of the person.

I fail to see any justification here. Problem with police is their training. When all you see is nails and you’re the hammer......well

Anonymous

I have a child with special needs and this is like a knife in the heart. Every day we have to send our vulnerable defenseless kids out into the world (of school in this case) and hang our hopes on the kindness of others not to harm them in any way. This breaks my heart into a million pieces. PLEASE BE KIND.

Anonymous

Thanks for your comment and I also feel this pain. It’s an outrage that police have no ethical guidelines and no compassion. Who hired these sadists? Were they fired? These are my concerns, also there is not enough money in the world that could compensate these particular children. Do you know how long it takes to get some kids to trust enough to go to school? How can you compensate a parent for all that time they wasted installing trust in a negligent system. BAN police from Schools they are well paid terrorists of the vulnerable.

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