A federal lawsuit filed Monday in Northern Kentucky alleges that a Kenton County deputy sheriff shackled two elementary schoolchildren with disabilities, causing them pain and trauma.
The lawsuit says Deputy Kevin Sumner, a school resource officer in Covington, locked handcuffs around the children's biceps and forced their hands behind their backs. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Covington by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Children's Law Center and the law firm Dinsmore & Shohl.
The children — students in the Covington Independent Public Schools district — were an 8-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl, according to the lawsuit.
A video shows the boy, identified as S.R., being shackled and crying out in pain. S.R. has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a history of trauma, a news release from the ACLU, said.
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The girl, L.G., was handcuffed twice behind her back by her biceps, also causing her pain, the lawsuit stated. L.G. has ADHD and other special needs. Both children were being punished for behavior related to their disabilities, the news release said. Neither was arrested nor charged with any criminal conduct. The lawsuit was filed on their behalf.
The incidents occurred last fall, the lawsuit said.
In 2012, the Kentucky Board of Education adopted regulations prohibiting school personnel, defined to include resource officers, from using mechanical restraints such as handcuffs on students, according to the lawsuit. The regulation took effect in 2013.
"Shackling children is not OK. It is traumatizing, and in this case it is also illegal," Susan Mizner, disability counsel for the ACLU, said in the news release. "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."
Minority students and children with disabilities are especially vulnerable, the news release said. One child in this case is Latino, and the other is black.
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."
"Kevin Sumner is one of the best and most highly trained school resource officers in Kentucky," Sanders said. "He's a teacher who left that profession to become a police officer. He's totally devoted to kids and schools and education."
Col. Pat Morgan of the Kenton County Sheriff's Department told the Herald-Leader on Monday afternoon that the sheriff's office had not received a copy of the lawsuit.
In addition to Sumner, the lawsuit names Kenton County Sheriff Chuck Kor zenborn, alleging his failure to adequately train and supervise Sumner, a school resource officer for several public elementary schools in Covington. The lawsuit further contends that the Kenton County Sheriff's Office violated the Americans With Disabilities Act based on its treatment of the children.
"Kentucky's school personnel are prohibited from using restraints, especially mechanical restraints, to punish children or as a way to force behavior compliance," said Kim Tandy, executive director of the Children's Law Center. "These regulations include school resource officers. These are not situations where law enforcement action was necessary."
In both cases, Sumner handcuffed the children, according to the news release. The lawsuit seeks an order requiring a change in policies by the sheriff's office, and additional training for school resource officers in dealing with young and special-needs children. It also seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages against Sumner.
The news release included a statement from the child S.R.'s mother: "It is heartbreaking to watch my little boy suffer because of this experience. It's hard for him to sleep, he has anxiety, and he is scared of seeing the officer in the school. School should be a safe place for children. It should be a place they look forward to going to. Instead, this has turned into a continuing nightmare for my son."
Officials who filed the lawsuit said officers in schools must be trained to work with children with disabilities and trauma.