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Friday, October 2, 2015

Department of Justice Files Statement of Interest in Kentucky School Handcuffing Case

The Department of Justice today filed a statement of interest in S.R. & L.G. v. Kenton County, et al, in federal court in the Eastern District of Kentucky.  The plaintiffs in the case are two elementary school children – named in the complaint as eight-year-old third grader S.R. and nine-year-old fourth grader L.G. – who allege that a school resource officer (SRO) violated their rights under the Fourth and 14th Amendment and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when the SRO handcuffed them in school, behind their backs, above their elbows, and at their biceps, after the children exhibited conduct arising out of their disabilities.

The purpose of the statement of interest, which does not take a position on the merits of the case, is to provide the court with a framework to assess the plaintiffs’ claim.  The department’s statement of interest explains the requirements to protect the rights of children, particularly children with disabilities, in their interactions with SROs.  SROs can partner with schools to help maintain a safe and positive school environment—when their role is clearly defined and they are trained to perform it properly.  However, if SROs do not observe appropriate limits on their role and responsibility, the Justice Department writes, they risk “criminaliz[ing] school-related misbehavior and risk lasting and severe consequences for children, particularly children with disabilities.” 

In its statement of interest, the Justice Department emphasizes that school resource officers should not handle routine disciplinary incidents that school officials should properly address.  The brief also describes the particularized facts and circumstances the court should consider in evaluating whether the SRO’s conduct in this case was objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.  Finally, the department confirms that the ADA applies to SROs’ interactions with children with disabilities and that this statute requires SROs to make reasonable modifications in their procedures when necessary, and requires law enforcement agencies to change policies that discriminate against children with disabilities. 

S.R. and L.G. v. Kenton County, et al. was filed in August 2015.  The Department of Justice filed its statement of interest under a federal law that gives the Attorney General the authority to attend to the interests of the United States in any case pending in a federal court. 

15-1224
Updated October 2, 2015