Disabled elementary students shackled for misbehaving, lawsuit claims

CREDIT: ACLU

COVINGTON, Ky. (NBC News) – A sheriff’s deputy in Kentucky illegally shackled two disabled children in a school after they misbehaved, a lawsuit filed Monday in federal district court claims.

Video posted by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the children, showed one of the encounters, which involved an 8-year-old boy and a sheriff’s deputy who was working as a resource officer at Latonia Elementary School, just south of Cincinnati.

The boy, who is identified in the lawsuit as S.R. and has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, according to the complaint, was sent to the vice principal’s office in November 2013 after experiencing “disability-related difficulties complying” with his teacher.

Video footage from the office shows the deputy, Kevin Sumner, placing the boy’s hands behind his back and handcuffing his biceps.

“You can do what we’ve asked you to,” Sumner says, “or you can suffer the consequences.”

Throughout the 7-minute video, which was filmed by school personnel, according to the lawsuit the boy shouts, cries and kicks at a table in front of him.

“If you want the handcuffs off, you’ve got to stop kicking,” Sumner says.

Claudia Center, a lawyer with the ACLU, told NBC News that the Americans with Disabilities Act says that children must pose “a direct threat” to themselves or others for a restraint to be used, and that most states—including Kentucky — have adopted laws that say the same thing.

Neither the boy, nor the other plaintiff, a 9-year-old girl, were an “imminent danger,” the lawsuit says. Instead, they “experienced pain, fear, and emotional trauma.”

Center said that frequently, neither state law nor federal law is being implemented.

In 2011-2012, the last school year for which public school data is available, Center said, 52,500 disabled students across the country were physically restrained. Of those, mechanical restraints like handcuffs were used on 4,000 of them.

According to a statistical analysis conducted for the ACLU, Center said, disabled students are 20 times more likely to be restrained than students who aren’t. “It’s extremely disproportionate,” she said.

The lawsuit, which names Sumner and the Kenton County Sheriff’s Office as defendants, is requesting policy changes and unspecified damages.

Pat Morgan, chief deputy with the Kenton County Sheriff, declined to discuss specifics of the suit, saying he had only just learned of it. “We’re going to talk to our attorney,” he told NBC News.

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