$337,000 Settlement Headed To Elementary School Students Handcuffed By School Resource Officers
from the insurance-premium-increases-will-also-be-paid-for-by-taxpayers dept
Putting cops in schools often turns routine disciplinary issues into police matters. That’s a problem. Cops — given the friendly-spin title of “school resource officers” — have a limited tool set for handling discipline. It involves shows of authority, deployments of force, and, in this case, adult handcuffs clamped onto an 8-year-old’s upper arms. Tiny wrists can’t be secured by adult cuffs, so up the arm they go until they more resemble an instrument of torture than a restraint device.
This cuffing was performed by Deputy Kevin Sumner of the Kenton County (KY) Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff’s Department claimed the deputy followed policy, but could not produce any policy relevant to the handcuffing of small children. Experts on force/restraint deployment said this cuffing didn’t follow any protocol they were aware of. Sheriff Korzenborn insisted (without any evidence) this technique was proper and testified he did not order retraining of officers in child-restraint techniques following the incident.
Last year, a federal court declared this handcuffing to be excessive force. It pointed out the alleged “crime” did not justify the force deployed and, even if it had, the force used was far in excess of what was needed.
Applying the Graham factors, the severity of the “crime” committed by S.R. and L.G. — assault — weighs in their favor. While S.R. kicked a teacher and L.G. tried to and/or did hit a teacher, these are very young children, and their conduct does not call to mind the type of “assault” which would warrant criminal prosecution. Indeed, Sumner testified that “none of what they did was worthy of trying to file a criminal charge.”
The second factor, whether the children posed an immediate threat to themselves or others, weighs in S.R.’s favor. At the time he was handcuffed, S.R. had largely calmed down, Sumner had escorted him to the restroom without incident, and they had returned to the office. While Sumner testified that S.R. swung his elbow towards Sumner, such can hardly be considered a serious physical threat from an unarmed, 54-pound eight-year-old child.
A little over a year later, the two elementary school students will be receiving a payout from Kenton County taxpayers.
On Thursday, a sheriff’s office in Kentucky has agreed to pay more than $337,000 for the painful and unconstitutional handcuffing of elementary school students with disabilities. The two plaintiffs, both of whom were children of color and both of whom have disabilities, were so small that the deputy sheriff locked the handcuffs around the children’s biceps, forcing their hands behind their backs.
Despite the ruling and the settlement agreement, Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn remains unrepentant. He views this settlement as a cowardly capitulation by the company fronting the money for his deputy’s misconduct.
In a statement released Nov. 5, Kenton County Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn said he “never signed off or agreed to settle.”
“My understanding is that the insurance company viewed that it was less expensive to settle the case than to continue defending it,” he said.
Korzenborn also noted that the settlement came without “any admission of liability” on behalf of the sheriff’s office.
Handcuffing children and causing this sort of reaction is just good school policing, according to the sheriff.
After the handcuffings, both children had repeated 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.
This is what the sheriff considers to be a worthwhile punishment for an 8-year-old student who tried to punch his deputy in the arm: a painful, unconstitutional handcuffing followed by a few years of nightmares and family upheaval. It will happen again because Korzenborn believes he — not the law, not policies, and not the federal court — is right. He’s a law unto himself, and that makes things dangerous for students in the county’s schools. And he’s a walking advertisement for personal indemnification.