Kentucky Parents Sue Sheriff for Handcuffing Disabled Children


A northern Kentucky county sheriff and one of his school resource officers are being sued by two women for placing their two disabled elementary children in handcuffs, according to the Associated Press.

Since the handcuffs were too large to fit around the children’s wrists, Officer Kevin Sumner put the handcuffs around the children’s upper arms while their hands were behind their backs. The children, an eight-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl, have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The boy’s handcuffing was recorded on school video and shows him struggling and crying.

“You don’t get to swing at me like that,” Sumner told the boy, according to a video that was captured by a school administrator and uploaded to YouTube by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the women and their children. “You can do what we’ve asked you to, or you can suffer the consequences.”

The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court, says the 3-feet 6-inch tall boy, who weighed 52 pounds, was taken out of class last August for not following his teacher’s directions. When he attempted to leave the principal’s office he was restrained by school administrators. When Sumner arrived, he led the boy to the bathroom, at which time the boy tried to hit Sumner with his elbow. The child was then put in handcuffs, according to a Kenton County Sheriff’s office report.

Weighing 56 pounds, the nine-year-old girl allegedly disrupted instruction and was sent to an isolation room in August of last year. When she tried to leave the room, Sumner was called in and the principal and vice principal restrained the girl. The sheriff’s office report said that the girl was handcuffed because she was “attempting to injure school staff.”

The lawsuit says the children suffered “a severe mental health crisis” because of this experience, and added that Sumner called in a “medical crisis team.” The girl was taken to a hospital in an ambulance for psychiatric assessment and treatment. The parents are asking that the court ban the school from engaging in this kind of punishment again, for compensation for the pain and emotional trauma to their children, and for attorneys’ fees.

The state of Kentucky has regulations in place which ban schools from physically restraining students with disabilities. The lawsuit states that officials at both children’s schools knew of the students’ disabilities.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit for the two women and released the video of the eight-year-old’s treatment.  The school administrators were aware that both children had disabilities which included “impulsivity, and difficulty paying attention, complying with directives, controlling emotions and remaining seated.”

The Associated Press adds that Officer Sumner’s attorney, Robert Sanders, said Sumner’s actions were a result of his desire to keep the children from “placing themselves and other people in danger of harm, and that’s what the book says to do.”

“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.

The US Department of Education states that disabled children make up 12% of all students in public schools, but they make up 75% of students who are physically retrained by adults. The BBC quoted Mizner, who said that this type of disciplinary procedure is exactly what feeds into the “school to prison pipeline”.