A Kentucky Sheriff’s office agreed to pay more than $337,000 after a deputy sheriff illegally and painfully handcuffed two elementary school children in 2014. The American Civil Liberties Union initiated a lawsuit in 2015.

The two plaintiffs were 8- and 9-year-old students at Covington Independent Schools in Kenton County, Kentucky, when Deputy Sheriff Kevin Sumner put them in handcuffs for misbehavior related to their ADHD. The children were so small that Sumner locked the handcuffs around their biceps, forcing their hands behind their backs. The incident made national headlines because the handcuffing of one of the children was caught on videotape.

“We never did this for the money, it was always to make sure no other kid had to go through what ours did,” said plaintiff S.R.’s mother.

For years, the Kenton County Sheriff’s Office insisted that the handcuffings were a proper use of force. In October of 2017, however, U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman ruled that the cuffings were unconstitutional and that Kenton County is liable for the deputy sheriff’s conduct. In January 2017, the district signed a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice, prohibiting school officials from requesting school resource officers’ assistance to obtain compliance from a student or enforce school disciplinary rules.

After the handcuffings, both children, who had pre-existing disabilities, suffered nightmares, started bed-wetting, and would not let their mothers out of their sight. Both families left the school district and moved to areas where their children could receive the treatment and accommodations they needed.

“We are gratified that the families can finally get some justice,” said Claudia Center, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program. “But, we also know that too many children just like our plaintiffs — kids with disabilities and kids of color who are being disciplined for behaviors related to their disabilities — are far too often misunderstood in schools, and subjected to force and trauma, instead of empathy and understanding.”

“The appropriate place for law enforcement in elementary schools is outside of the school protecting children from external threats, and not as disciplinarians when a child is acting out.” said Rickell Howard Smith, an attorney with the Children’s Law Center. “It escalates behavior problems, rather than calming them.  It unfairly criminalizes age-appropriate behavior.  It’s a ‘lose- lose’ for both the child and the school.”

The 2015 lawsuit was filed by the Children’s Law Center, Dinsmore & Shohl, and the ACLU.

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