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Justice Department Weighs in on Kentucky Restraint Case

handcuffing_child_lawsuit.jpgSchool resource officers should not criminalize behavior that school personnel can handle, according to a statement of interest filed earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Justice in a lawsuit after two Kentucky elementary school students were cuffed at the biceps. 

A school resource officer assigned to the 4,000-student Covington, Ky., district was accused in August of violating the constitutional and Americans with Disabilities Act rights of two students by restraining them at school. One of the incidents was recorded.

S.R. and L.G. v. Kenton County Sheriff's Office was filed against Kevin Sumner, a sheriff's deputy and school resource officer involved in the incidents, and Charles Korzenborn, the county sheriff.

The Justice Department's interest statement, which was filed Oct. 2, says that the lawsuit "implicates the rights of children in schools to be free from unconstitutional police seizures, the rights of children with disabilities to be free from disability-based discrimination, and the rights of children to be free from civil rights violations that lead to the cycle of harsh school discipline and law enforcement involvement known as the school-to-prison pipeline."

The court should consider, when deciding the case, the appropriate role of school resource officers and whether the officer's cuffing of the two elementary students, who were in 3rd and 4th grade at the time, was "objectively reasonable." 

The plaintiffs in the case have put forward facts that, if true, would make the officer's actions unreasonable, the statement said: The age of the children and the school setting, the severity of the offense, and the level of threat posed by the children suggest that other methods could have controlled the situation.

Photo: Eight-year-old S.R. is restrained by handcuffs by school resource officer Kevin Sumner in fall 2014. Courtesy American Civil Liberties Union

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