Children in handcuffs spark lawsuit in US


COVINGTON, Kentucky - A deputy sheriff in the US is facing a lawsuit after handcuffing schoolchildren who were misbehaving as a result of their hyperactivity disorder and other disabilities, according to media reports.

Kevin Sumner in his role as a school resource officer is accused of handcuffing an eight-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl, both of whom have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Cellphone video obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is suing Sumner, captured one incident in which the Sumner talks to a boy handcuffed in a chair.

The 24kg boy is so small that he's handcuffed not around the wrists, but around his biceps, according to a CNN report.

"You don't get to swing at me like that," the deputy says as the boy cries.

"You can do what we've asked you to, or you can suffer the consequences."

"Ow, that hurts!" the boy cries.

The deputy tells the boy what h e will need to do to get uncuffed.

"If you want the handcuffs off, you're going to have to behave and ask me nicely," he says.

"And if you're behaving, I'll take them off, but as long as you're acting up, you're not going to get them off."

The handcuffs were removed after about 15 minutes, the ACLU said, citing school records.

The ACLU said the girl was twice handcuffed behind her back by her biceps and was also in pain.

"Both children were being punished for behaviour related to their disabilities," the ACLU said in a statement.

All three incidents happened in 2014.

The ACLU is suing on behalf of the two children, claiming Sumner violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The suit seeks a change in policies by the Kenton County Sheriff's Office in the state of Kentucky and additional training for school resource officers in dealing with young children and children with special needs.

It also seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages against Sumner, says CNN.

Kentucky laws ban school officials from physically restraining children that are known to have disabilities.

Students with disabilities make up 12 per cent of students in public schools, but are 75 per cent of the students who are physically restrained by adults in their schools.

"Shackling children is not OK. It is traumatising, and in this case it is also illegal," said Susan Mizner, disability counsel for the ACLU.

"Using law enforcement to discipline students with disabilities only serves to traumatise children. It makes behavioural issues worse and interferes with the school's role in developing appropriate educational and behavioural plans for them."

Sumner's attorney, Robert Sanders, told the Lexington Herald-Leader that 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 told the newspaper.

"He's a teacher who left that profession to become a police officer. He's totally devoted to kids and schools and education."

Last year, the River City News featured Sumner in a profile lauding his educational experience. He was a teacher for four years before becoming a police officer, and he then joined those two skill sets as a resource officer, the newspaper wrote.

"It's good to have a positive interaction with the kids and to be a good role model and to undo any negative stereotypes of law enforcement that some of the kids may have," Sumner told the River City News.

According to an investigative report cited in the lawsuit, Sumner said the boy "swung his arm and attempted to strike him with his elbow," but the deputy blocked the boy's elbow with his hand.

Kenton County Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn is also named in the suit, accused of failing to properly train and supervise Sumner.

"Kentucky's school personnel are prohibited from using restraints, especially mechanical restraints, to punish children or as a way to force behaviour compliance," Kim Tandy, executive director of the Children's Law Centre, said in a statement.

"These regulations include school resource officers. These are not situations where law enforcement action was necessary."

The Kenton County Sheriff's Office issued a statement in support of Sumner, said CNN, stressing that "all the facts and circumstances have not yet been presented."

"School superintendents and administrators want, and need, to provide a safe environment for students and teachers. School personnel are permitted, like any other citizen, to request the assistance of a law enforcement deputy.

"Covington Schools' personnel requested assistance from the police during school hours after school administrators' efforts to de-escalate and defuse a threat to others had proven unsuccessful. Deputy Sumner responded to the call and did what he is sworn to do and in conformity with all constitutional and law enforcement standards," the office said.

State law prohibits the physical restraint of students and requires officers to do yearly training.

In a statement, Covington Independent Public Schools said it will not comment on the lawsuit, per district policy.

"However, the school district has fully cooperated with the children's legal counsel, as well as the Sheriff's Office in looking into the complaints and we will continue to do so," the statement said.

The school district added that school resource officers "are assigned in the schools to maintain the safety of students and staff" and "act in accordance with their training as law enforcement officers."

But they "are not called upon by school district staff to punish or discipline a student who engages in a school-related offence."

The boy's mother said her son was traumatised from being handcuffed, said CNN.

"It is heartbreaking to watch my little boy suffer because of this experience," she said, according to the ACLU.

"It's hard for him to sleep. He has anxiety, and he is scared of seeing the officer in the school. School should be a safe place for children. It should be a place they look forward to going to. Instead, this has turned into a continuing nightmare for my son."