Police in Schools

Shackling Elementary School Kids Above Elbow Found to Violate the Fourth Amendment


A school resources officer for Covington Independent Public Schools in Kentucky in 2015 shackled, in separate incidents, two learning disabled kids, an 8-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl. The cuffs were attached not around their wrists, but above the elbows behind their backs.

ACLU Youtube

The American Civil Liberties (ACLU) considered his actions a violation of the kids' Fourth Amendment rights, and this week a federal court agreed in a decision on motions for summary judgment from both sides.

Kenton County, where it occurred, is also liable for the officer's conduct. He was also a deputy sheriff.

According to an ACLU press release on this decision:

"We are gratified that the judge found, as a matter of law, that this was a violation of the Fourth Amendment," said Claudia Center, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union's Disability Rights Program. "We knew this was unconstitutional behavior. Anyone who viewed the video could see it was tantamount to torture."

The lawsuit was filed in August 2015 by the ACLU, the Children's Law Center, and the private law firm of Dinsmore & Shohl. The suit prompted a Department of Justice investigation into the school district's disciplinary practices, including the use of police to deal with routine student misbehavior. In January 2017, Covington Independent Schools entered into an agreement with DOJ and began implementing new policies to ensure that disciplinary practices do not discriminate against children with disabilities.

The actual decision, which left the question of damages for a later court proceeding. The officer's actions were not found to be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

One of the defenses involved asserting that clear school policy barring the use of restraints that way should not apply to the officer since he was in that moment acting not as a school employee but as a police officer.

Obviously, things can get complicated when the same employee wears both hats, which should make us wonder how necessary having cops in elementary school doing discipline is.

On that point, from U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman's decision:

Because SROs [school resources officers] wear two hats while serving in Kentucky schools, it can be difficult to discern when their actions constitute those of school personnel or those of law enforcement….[but the officer's] seizure and use of force, under the facts of this case, were unreasonable, even in the absence of the above regulation.

Judge Bertelsman notes the particular method of the shackling—above the elbows—made it especially egregious, and that had the handcuffing been more traditional at the wrist, perhaps a different judgment would be made.

Robby Soave reported on this awful conduct back when it happened in 2015, and rightly noted in an indignant subhed that the action was "outrageous and evil." Now a court has rightly agreed it was unconstitutional as well.

ACLU video regarding the situation, made when the suit was first initiated: