A Kentucky sheriff’s deputy shackled two children with disabilities as punishment for their misbehavior at school, an allegedly illegal use of force that traumatized the children, according to a federal lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union and others filed on Monday.
The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky to declare the officers’ alleged handcuffing of children with disabilities to be unconstitutional and a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit also seeks to force the sheriff’s office in Kenton County, just south of Cincinnati, to stop using “unnecessary and excessive physical restraint” on children.
“Shackling children is not okay,” Susan Mizner, disability counsel for the ACLU, said in a statement. “Using law enforcement to discipline students with disabilities only serves to traumatize children. It makes behavioral issues worse and interferes with the school’s role in developing appropriate educational and behavioral plans for them.”
A spokesman for the Kenton County Sheriff’s Office said he was not aware of the lawsuit and declined to comment until he could review the complaint. Kevin Sumner, the deputy sheriff accused of handcuffing the children, also said he had not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.
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Video footage published by the ACLU shows a man the ACLU identifies as Sumner – a Kenton County sheriff’s deputy and school resource officer – handcuffing an 8-year-old boy behind his back. The handcuffs were placed around the boy’s biceps, perhaps because the boy, at 52 pounds, was too small to be handcuffed at the wrists.
“Oh, God. Ow, that hurts,” says the boy, a third-grader identified as S.R.
“You can do what we ask you to or you can suffer the consequences,” the officer said.
School records show that the boy was handcuffed for about 15 minutes, according to the complaint. A portion of the video submitted with the complaint shows S.R. crying as he sits restrained in a chair.
“It’s your decision to behave this way,” Sumner said, according to the complaint and a video submitted with it. “If you want the handcuffs off, you’re going to have to behave and ask me nicely.”
The episode happened in November 2014, after the school resource officer told S.R. to sit down and the boy did not comply. S.R. has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a condition that makes it difficult for him to stay focused, control his behavior and follow instructions, according to the complaint.
In a report written months after the incident, Sumner stated that S.R. had “swung his arm and attempted to strike (him) with his elbow,” but Sumner blocked him, according to the complaint.
Students with disabilities make up about 12 percent of all students in public schools, but they account for about 75 percent of the students who are physically restrained by adults in their schools, according to federal data.
Kentucky regulations only allows physical restraint at school in situations where “the student’s behavior poses an imminent danger of physical harm to self or others,” according to the complaint. S.R. never posed a threat to others or to himself, the complaint says.
State regulations also prohibit school employees, including school resource officers, from using mechanical restraints such as handcuffs, the lawsuit says. But the Kenton County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Charles Korzenborn allegedly have allowed – and authorized – Sumner and other school resource officers to use mechanical restraints including handcuffs, according to the complaint.
Sumner allegedly handcuffed another child twice during October 2014, according to the complaint. The child is identified as L.G., a 9-year-old girl who also has ADHD.
In the first incident, L.G. was taken to her school’s “isolation room” because of her refusal to follow instructions in her classroom. She tried to leave the room and was restrained by administrators, who called Sumner. When L.G. was handcuffed behind her back, she “experienced a severe mental health crisis” and was taken by ambulance to a hospital for a psychiatric assessment, according to the complaint.
Three weeks later, Sumner allegedly handcuffed the girl again after he told her to go into the cafeteria and she ran away from him. “Plaintiff L.G. remained kneeling on the floor, handcuffed and struggling, for about thirty minutes until her mother L.J. arrived,” the complaint says.
According to the complaint, Sumner wrote a report months later about both incidents, saying that the child had been trying to assault someone just before she was restrained – school staff, in the first case, and himself, in the second.
The Children’s Law Center and Cincinnati law firm Dinsmore & Shohl joined ACLU in filing the lawsuit.