SRO’s Use of Handcuffs on Elementary School Students Ruled Unconstitutional

Here’s the scenario, as recounted in a federal court opinion: One student, an eight-year old boy, suffered from ADHD and PTSD, and was handcuffed above the elbows for fifteen minutes.  The other student, a nine-year old girl, was handcuffed above the elbows purportedly in an effort to calm her, and when that did not work, was transported to the hospital via ambulance.  Through their mothers, the two students sued the school resource officer (SRO), among others.

The SRO was an employee of the county sheriff, who had a written agreement with the public school district’s governing board to provide SRO services. The agreement provided, in addition to other stipulations, that SROs would not act as a school disciplinarian, because that function belonged to the schools. The agreement also provided that SROs would be trained to work with youth in schools.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky ruled that an SRO’s manner of handcuffing two elementary school students amounted to an unconstitutional seizure and use of excessive force, as a matter of law. The court, however, found that the SRO individually was entitled to qualified immunity and yet concluded that the county had municipal liability for the unconstitutional actions. The District Court declined to find any liability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A Lesson: Be careful about the use and actions of SROs and have a clear understanding of their boundaries.

Click here to read the full opinion.