Police in Schools

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

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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:

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  1. It’s unfortunate that the cops weren’t brave enough to just beat them to death.

    1. Too much work. Blam. Blam Blam!!!

      “I feared for my life”

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    2. Oh boy. I laughed pretty loudly at this.

      Happy Friday, everyone.

  2. “to be sure, on occasion there may be cause for an officer to torture a detainee…”

    1. Hey, they have quotas to meet.

  3. “Obviously, things can get complicated when the same employee wears both hats”

    Man or Pig? Who can tell!

  4. If you can’t handle an 8 or 9 year old kid without resorting to handcuffs, you’re too much of a goddamned pussy to wear a badge. The judge should sentence these officers to a year in jail with wedgies twice a day.

    -jcr

  5. I was wondering whether he was sporting a visible erection while shackling the child, but that would assume that his erections would be visible.

    1. Seriously, though, if the cop was acting in his capacity as a police officer, then I presume handcuffing the child was preparatory to bringing him in front of a juvenile judge?

      Because if he wasn’t acting on the school’s behalf, wielding delegated disciplinary authority from the school, then how else would he justify the restraint?

      1. I’m sympathetic to schools dealing with misbehaving students – even the occasional paddling would not be the end of the world – but it’s my guess that schools call in the cops to shield themselves and their teachers/administrators from liability. And from angry parent/teacher conferences.

        How much easier to just say, “oh, well, we defer to the trained police officer, we don’t use physical discipline.”

        1. Imagine the climate in a classroom full of rowdy students, and the teacher can’t touch a hair on their heads. Just call the cop on staff if things get too rowdy.

          1. OK, once more into the breach –

            If the students can’t see the teacher as an authority figure who can mete out proportionate discipline (not torture) when needed, then the unruly students will make learning difficult for the ones who want to learn.

            And if a student acts up, the teacher has to stand around like a…as SIV would say, like a cuck…saying “wait until Officer Friendly gets here.”

            How can teachers project authority that way?

            1. Now, here is a school resource officer.

              1. Now THAT is truly frightening!

              2. One of those nearly severed my grandfather’s fingers. That’s why my mother and her brothers didn’t go to Catholic school.

            2. It’s precisely because teachers imagine themselves to be “authority figures” that there are rowdy students to begin with.

              The authority figure teachers are usually the very worst.

              1. “It’s precisely because teachers imagine themselves to be “authority figures” that there are rowdy students to begin with.”

                No.

  6. 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…

    I’m not entirely sure why that’s relevant.

    1. They need to know whether the legal settlement comes out of the school district’s budget or the sheriff’s budget?

    1. I think I knew his dog-walker’s hairdresser’s sister.

  7. Don’t want to be handcuffed above the elbows like a thug, don’t be an 3-1/2′ tall, 58 pound, 8 year-old like a thug.

    Seriously though, this guy shouldn’t be anywhere near power.

    1. The problem with this statement is that it implies, perhaps accidentally, that there is someone, somewhere, who *should* be near it.

      1. It implies that I accept that there will always be someone with power, but it would be best if they weren’t a sociopath who gets off on torturing little kids.

        1. “I accept that there will always be someone with power”

          So unambitious.

  8. I am a bit confused. The article seems to indicate that there were disabilities involved, but not exactly how, or if that even entered into the decision.
    And I am confused as to how this –

    “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,[a] against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

    fits into the handcuffs (elbow cuffs?).
    Nothing about searches, nor warrants that I see.

    1. “unreasonable…seizures…”

      It may be a stretch, and I’d have to read the opinion for details.

    2. I am guessing the kid was physically restrained without an arrest warrant or probable cause, but I am not sure how that would only apply to being cuffed above the elbow rather than being cuffed at all.

      1. I’m also baffled by the above the elbow distinction and how it’s parsed in a 4th amendment context. But, as usual, compulsory schooling is what created this encounter. Whether this kid is emotionally “disabled” or simply unable to tolerate his incarceration, he clearly doesn’t belong in Covington government school.

      2. Try putting your elbows close together behind your back like that. I can’t even come close. Someone doing so forcefully would probably dislocate both my shoulders. It’s like restraining someone with a full nelson. Sometimes it goes alright, and sometimes something breaks. ‘Oops. My bad. Did I do that?’

  9. Any “judgment” in this case is irrelevant to my action if something like this happens to my kid: the perpetrator with end up with a bullet between the eyes.

  10. You have to cuff a kid above the elbow because their hands are small enough to slip out. They probably should have used kid-sized handcuffs, but the market for those might be too small for any manufacturers to bother with.

    1. Duct tape?

    2. You lost me at ‘You have to cuff a kid’.

      1. thank you,,, agreed

  11. Schools have gone to great lengths in the name of student safety, and then they undue it all by bringing in armed pyscopaths with beady eyes and tiny little pig brains.

  12. Even if it technically isn’t, it’s still nuts.

  13. As someone who works in this field, I find these actions not only appalling but inexcusable. This type of “behavior modification” was eliminated in almost all settings serving individuals with disabilities in the 1980s and early 90s. Then it was considered to be inhuman and illegal. I cannot believe a school district is still using this form of “discipline”. The ones who should be disciplined are those on the school board and administration who allowed it to continue. Maybe they should all be forced to be “shackled” as these children were restrained. The only people who think this type of restraint is acceptable are people who do not consider children or adults with disabilities to be “normal” and do no think they have the same rights as everyone else. Of course they are complete idiots and in this case I am glad to see the ACLU suing the crap out of them and winning.

    1. As someone who enjoyed the peace and sanity of the 80’s & 90’s, and who has to live in this dysfunctional f*cked up society, I think you just pointed out where we went sideways.

  14. Why are they shackling learning disabled elementary students in the first place? It doesn’t matter if it was above the elbows or not; it still sounds terrible.

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