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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David Drake

I have a hard time supporting the ACLU even though I agree with them on many issues due to articles like this. It is needlessly inflammatory in ways not germane to the topic. The issue is children and disabled children being abused by cops yet you feel then need to keep bringing up children of color...almost like you think it was not important if it was not children of color. Until the ACLU fixes its ways and keeps to the facts and not inflammatory rhetoric I am many other people can not support you.

Anonymous

You sound like a racist: Incase you want an answer:- A child with both a Disabilty and who is a child of color is in two minority groups, both whom are often victimized and treated as second class citizens. Are you able to relate to that in any way? I am sorry to have to explain this, and you maybe did not want an answer.

N. Tebble.

Disgusting behavior, heartbreaking that a human of any profession could be so inhuman? I am sad for the children, this is terror and Institutional abuse at its worst. The police hiring staff should have a mental health screening for all serious mental illnesses including sadism. Also, our government should have same assessment for those who run for president, even though some of them do not realize that Presidency comes with a duty and high responsibility to treat children with disabilities, and minority children with dignity.

Anonymous

Did this happen in the school? What's the school's responsibility?

Disabled Vet Bi...

I have been tortured for being a Disabled Vet for years and the ACLU has refused to help because I am a white Disabled Veteran. The ACLU only helps if the victim is "Of Color" or not a Veteran. The ACLU engages in reverse discrimination and they hate Disabled Veterans.

Catherine

I am absolutely horrified that anyone would think that handcuffing these children, especially in the manner it was done, was anywear NEAR appropriate. The picture provided is disturbing! I work in an emergency department, and there are very strict rules and protocol when using of restraints. It's only when absolutely necessary for safety reasons, the least restrictive form that can be used must be used, the patient must be evaluated every 15 minutes to see if lesser restraints can replace the more restrictive ones, or taken off, if possible. My heart just breaks after reading these statistics of black children with disabilities being referred to law enforcement. I'm glad that people were willing to take action against these adult bullies!

Anonymous

Schools should be a police-free zone until specific CRIMINAL activity is detected. A tantrum, a fit, and most instances of childhood unruly behavior are NOT CRIMINAL. What school districts need to do is hire professional HEALTH CARE & MEDIATION professionals. Expecting law enforcement officers to be trained for both criminal pursuit as well as HEALTH CARE intervention is not a realistic or cost effective tactic. Seattle at one time had a robust community service (unarmed) officer program who responded to minor issues that were better suited for persuasion and medication than physical force and the threat of arrest. Now the program is on its death bed, and we are more and more relying on cops to be mental health specialist. Cops are now trained to be terrorist-ready and when they roll on a typical day, they are mini -SWAT teams with automatic rifles in their car trunks. With this kind of mindset, how can we expect them to act any other way than they are trained to b,e shock and awe military occupation forces. Let's get real and fund compassionate, non-physical handling of minor disputes, in schools and the streets.

Anonymous

There was a time when teachers refused to provide accommodations to students with individualized education plans, once case law established the right to hold teachers accountable personally (name them as individuals in litigation), we saw an abrupt end to that.
I support the idea of holding individuals accountable for their actions "we were just following orders (policy, practice, ect.)" should never protect perpetrators of abuse.

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