FRANKFORT, Ky. — A school resource officer placed two disabled elementary school students in handcuffs because they were acting out, causing physical and emotional pain to the children, their mothers say in a federal lawsuit filed against the official and his boss, the county sheriff.
In a video of one of the incidents released by the American Civil Liberties Union — which filed the lawsuit Monday on behalf of the two women from northern Kentucky — an 8-year-old boy struggles and cries out as he sits in a chair, the handcuffs around his biceps and his arms locked behind him.
“You don’t get to swing at me like that,” School Resource Officer Kevin Sumner tells the boy in the video, which was taken by a school administrator. “You can do what we’ve asked you to, or you can suffer the consequences.” It was not clear why the administrator took the video, and school officials had not responded to a request for comment Tuesday.
The handcuffs were too large to fit around the boy’s wrists as well as those of the second child, a 9-year-old girl, the lawsuit says. Both children have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and are identified in court documents only by their initials. The lawsuit says school officials were aware of the students’ disabilities, which include “impulsivity, and difficulty paying attention, complying with directives, controlling emotions and remaining seated.”
Col. Pat Morgan with the Kenton County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment Monday, saying the office had not been officially notified of the lawsuit. Robert Sanders, Sumner’s attorney, said Sumner put the children in handcuffs because “they were placing themselves and other people in danger of harm, and that’s what the book says to do.”
The lawsuit says the boy, 3 feet 6 inches tall and 52 pounds, was removed from class last August because he was not following his teacher’s directions. The boy then tried to leave the principal’s office but was physically restrained by school administrators until Sumner arrived to escort the boy to the bathroom.
On the way back from the bathroom, the boy tried to hit Sumner with his elbow, according to a report from the Kenton County Sheriff’s office cited in the lawsuit, and that’s when Sumner put him in handcuffs.
The 9-year-old girl, about 56 pounds, was sent to an isolation room at her school last August for being disruptive. School officials asked Sumner to help after the girl tried to leave the room and was restrained by the principal and vice principal. A report from the sheriff’s office said Sumner put the girl in handcuffs because she was “attempting to injure school staff.”
The lawsuit said the experience caused “a severe mental health crisis” and Sumner called for a “medical crisis team.” The girl was taken by ambulance to a hospital for a psychiatric assessment and treatment.
The lawsuit asks for a judge to ban the school from doing this again and for money to compensate for the pain and emotional trauma and for attorneys’ fees.
Kentucky state regulations ban school officials from physically restraining students that they know have disabilities that could cause problems.
“Shackling children is not okay. It is traumatizing, and in this case it is also illegal,” Susan Mizner, disability counsel for the ACLU, said in a news release.