Last week, a sheriff’s office in Kentucky agreed to hand over $337,000 in taxpayer money for a federal lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Children’s Law Center that finally made progress after a deputy sheriff handcuffed—and seemingly tortured—two small elementary school students who have disabilities.
The children “were so small that the deputy sheriff locked the handcuffs around the children’s biceps, forcing their hands behind their backs,” Susan Mizner wrote announcing this week’s settlement.
In an extremely disturbing video, which TFTP reported on in 2015, school resource officer, Kenton County Deputy Sheriff Kevin Sumner, can be seen handcuffing a sobbing 8-year-old boy, referred to in court documents as S.R. The child is so small that Sumner has to lock the child’s biceps together behind his back. What makes the case even more appalling is that the child has a history of trauma and has been diagnosed with ADHD.
The other child named in the lawsuit, a girl named in the suit as L.G., was twice handcuffed in the same manner as S.R. She is a special needs student and has also been diagnosed with ADHD.
Neither child was accused of criminal conduct nor were they arrested or charged with a crime, but were being punished for behavior issues.
According to the ACLU, the lawsuit has finally been settled despite the sheriff disgustingly standing behind his deputy’s actions.
Months of discovery showed that Deputy Sheriff Sumner had handcuffed another young plaintiff twice and had also handcuffed up to 20 other children. Nonetheless, Sheriff Charles Korzenborn of Kenton County declared, “I steadfastly stand behind Deputy Sumner.” The sheriff also said, on the record, that handcuffing children behind their backs was an acceptable practice for his deputies.
Last year, a Federal court disagreed and the lawsuit was continued. Federal District Court Judge William O. Bertelsman found that the handcuffing of these two children was “an unconstitutional seizure and excessive force.” Judge Bertelsman also found, as a matter of law, that Kenton County is liable for the handcuffings.
When did it become acceptable to treat students who misbehave or act out as if they are criminals? These were children—tiny ones—and they were treated and abused like prisoners of war.
According to the ACLU, due to the fact that this treatment is so commonplace, makes Judge Bertelsman’s decision is a significant win. Not only did the court find that the sheriff’s office was wrong, the judge reached this decision at summary judgment, issuing a decision on these issues before the case even went to trial.
According to the ACLU the court had to give the sheriff the full benefit of the doubt — assuming that everything happened exactly as the deputy sheriff claimed. But even with this wide deference, the judge held the sheriff’s office liable and their actions unconstitutional. As Judge Bertelsman noted, even if SR swung an elbow at Officer Sumner, this “can hardly be considered a serious physical threat from an unarmed, 54-pound eight-year-old child.”
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. —ACLU
As the ACLU notes, 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.
As tragic as this story sounds, it is sadly not an isolated one. Young children with disabilities often find themselves on the receiving end of police state violence while attending public school.
Colton Granito, an 8-year-old boy with autism, threw a tantrum during class. Instead of following the boy’s IEP plan, police were called. Colton was handcuffed, transported to jail, and forced to sit in a cell for hours wearing a straight jacket. He was subsequently charged with assault and sentenced to probation.
The photo below is of a 10-year-old child handcuffed, laid out on the back of a police cruiser. The boy’s name is Ryan, and he has autism. He misbehaved at school and was also arrested and treated like a criminal.
In September of 2014, we reported on body cam footage showing a 9-year-old special needs boy handcuffed as his father pleaded with the officer to release him.
That same month, a highly disturbing video of cops manhandling a 13-year-old autistic child as he screamed for help emerged on Facebook.
And these cases contain only autistic children. If you truly want a glimpse into the horrid effects of the police state on all school children, take a scroll through our archives, at this link.
“The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence.” -Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi