The cuffing of two students with disabilities by a school resource officer in Kenton County in 2014 “was an unconstitutional seizure and excessive force,” U.S. District Court Judge William O. Bertelsman said in an opinion this week.
The plaintiffs suing through their mothers were two elementary school children who were handcuffed by a deputy sheriff school resource officer while attending schools within the Covington Independent Public School District in Covington, according to the ruling.
The children, an 8-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl, were handcuffed above the elbow behind their backs. A video showed the boy , S.R., crying out in pain. The girl, L.G, was twice handcuffed above the elbow, also causing her pain. Both children were being punished for behavior related to their disabilities, officials with the Children’s Law Center and counsel for the children said in a news release Friday.
“Even as young children, both were certain that what the deputy did to them was wrong,” said Rickell Howard Smith, litigation director for the Children’s Law Center and counsel for the child-plaintiffs. “I am glad to be able to tell them that the federal judge agrees with them.”
The school resource officer’s “manner of handcuffing S.R. and L.G. was an unconstitutional seizure and excessive force,” Bertelsman wrote in his ruling. In granting the motion for summary judgment, Bertelsman also ruled that Kenton County was liable for the “unlawful handcuffing of S.R. and L.J” and granted the school resource officer “qualified immunity,” meaning he was not held personally liable. The resource officer was also a deputy sheriff.
In 2015, Robert Sanders, the school resource officer’s attorney, told the Herald-Leader that Kevin 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 at the time. “He’s a teacher who left that profession to become a police officer. He’s totally devoted to kids and schools and education.”
Kenton County officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Friday afternoon. But according to the ruling, after the video of S.R.’s handcuffing was released to the media in August 2015, Kenton County Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn issued a news release which stated he stood behind the deputy who responded to the school’s request for help.
The lawsuit was filed in August 2015 by the Children’s Law Center, the law firm of Dinsmore & Shohl, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which prompted a Department of Justice investigation into the school district’s disciplinary practices. 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, a news release said.
A copy of the decision can be found at www.childrenslawky.org