Kentucky school resource officer sued for allegedly handcuffing children with ADHD

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Kenton County, Kentucky sheriff's deputy Kevin Sumner faces a federal lawsuit after he handcuffed elementary school children who were acting out as a result of their disabilities, the American Civil Liberties Union said. Sumner works as a school resource officer at Latonia Elementary School in Covington, Kentucky.

(CNN) — A Kentucky sheriff’s deputy now faces a federal lawsuit for handcuffing elementary school children who were acting out as a result of their hyperactivity disorder and other disabilities, the American Civil Liberties Union said.

The ACLU is suing Kenton County sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Sumner, who works as a school resource officer at Latonia Elementary School in Covington. Sumner is accused of handcuffing an 8-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl, who both have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Cell phone video obtained by the ACLU captured one incident in which Sumner talks to a boy handcuffed in a chair. The boy is so small that he’s handcuffed not around the wrists, but around his biceps.

“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 he’ll need to do to get unshackled.

“If you want the handcuffs off, you’re going to have to behave and ask me nicely,” he said. “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 behavior related to their disabilities,” the ACLU said in a statement.

All three incidents happened last fall.

Lawsuit calls for training, seeks damages

The group 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 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.

“Shackling children is not OK. It is traumatizing, 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 traumatize children. It makes behavioral issues worse and interferes with the school’s role in developing appropriate educational and behavioral plans for them.”

CNN has not reached Sumner or anyone representing him for comment.

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.”

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 behavior compliance,” Kim Tandy, executive director of the Children’s Law Center, 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 declined to comment to CNN.

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 offense.”

The boy’s mother said her son was traumatized from being handcuffed.

“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.”

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  • Chris

    I believe the school resource officer in Kentucky is being singled out for handcuffing a child who clearly was being aggressive. Before ACLU jumps on this case they should spend some time in schools with the growing amount of children, who because of a label of disability, are being allowed and reinforced to use violence as a means to cope. School Resource Officers come in when school personnel techniques to intervene have failed. And while mechanical restraints don’t look nice, they are able to keep all involved safe. I am all for civil liberties but that means every one’s civil liberties. No one should be subject to being assaulted and the reality is children assault and it causes damage. I will not support ACLU in these areas until they can show they have a clear understanding of what the environments that result in these situations are truly like. What interventions had already been attempted and what level of aggression results, justifiably, in these kinds of restraints.

  • Ron Kramer

    I didn’t watch the video. Just read the story. This problem stems with the “can’t touch a minor” B.S that kids grow up with these days. They should have respect for adults and authority. Asked to “come with me” should have been done with compliance. Non compliance means what? we walk away and leave be? Allow the other kids who want learn be disrupted? I school with a student that was a CONSTANT outbreak in the class. I learned nothing except how a teacher has no control over a teen minor. The kid in class should have been pulled from that class or expelled. She likely tipped over from clinging to her chair as he tried to lift her. (that’s her fault). At that point, she needs to be removed from the chair and classroom. (what would you say is proper action?) how long should this go on in the class where kids want to learn? Should he tie a rope to the chair and slide her out on it into the hallway? If he has a police officer, she is resisting arrest. How would you remove such a person who is clinging to a chair and not complying. SHE asked for excessive force. When will people realize these are not little children, they are teens and adults that have no respect for authority. If you are not adult enough to COMPLY to verbal requests. Then be ready to suffer the consequences of the next elevated level of forcing your compliance. IN ALL THESE STORIES if the offending person would just act civil and would respond to their requests they would not be physically forced to comply.

    • 0$

      I agree totally with Chris and Ron. There is no incentiv for wild children to behave. Good teachers are walking away from this very hard job!

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