Louisiana Parents File Lawsuit Against Jefferson Parish School District and Police After Their 10-Year-Old Son with ADHD Was Held In Chokehold and Jailed Following Outburst

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The parents of a differently-abled 10-year-old filed a legal claim after a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputy choked their son, who was acting out as a result of a crisis caused by his diagnosed mental health disorder.

The Louisiana elementary student believed he was going to be killed by the officers, further elevating his anxiety, the lawsuit alleges.

A fourth grader (Stock Photo) (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
A fourth grader (Stock Photo) (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Atlanta Black Star obtained the federal lawsuit filed Monday, May 9, by Ashley Hutchinson-Harper and Terry Harper on behalf of their son (whose name is being withheld because he is a minor) against the Jefferson Parish School Board and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.

The claim is in response to an incident on May 13, 2021, when the parents say their child, only identified as J.H., was bullied in the Congetta Trippe Janet Elementary School, triggering his disorder to an unmanageable degree.

The Harpers believe both parties violated their son’s civil rights and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

J.H. was diagnosed with ADHD Combined Type, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Mood Disorder, and Emotional Outburst, the claim says.

The lawsuit claims on the day in question the fifth grader got into a violent altercation with classmates, adults, and ultimately a Jefferson Parish deputy in response to being bullied by another student and being blamed as a disruptor in the class by his teacher.

The couple is seeking injunctive relief, declaratory relief, and damages from both defendants.

While in class on May, 13, 2021, the filing claims, J.H. was being bullied, bothered, and taunted by another student. It further states the teacher allowed it “to escalate to the point where J.H. began breathing heavily and yelling because he was so frustrated and angry.”

With his disorder, there are certain signs an episode is coming on, and that should have triggered the teacher to step in and calm him down, the plaintiffs say.

The boy’s type of ADHD makes it challenging for him to manage his own responses “to frustration; to control his anger; to express his emotions, wants, and needs; and to adjust to social and physical transitions.” So, when he felt unheard and his cry out for help against a bully went unresolved, the claim suggests, he acted out.

J.H. had a custom of eating lunch in his principal’s office, the lawsuit alleges, because the school has documented a history of the boy being picked on.

“While sitting in the office, J.H. refused to eat his lunch because he was still so distraught and angry from the previous class period,” the complaint explained.

Principal Doyle and other administrators told him to “eat or else go hungry for the rest of the day. Out of further frustration with this demand and lack of sympathy, J.H. threw a ball of yarn, hand sanitizer, and a tissue box.”

When the school employees threatened to call his mother if he didn’t “shape up his behavior,” he became upset and hit the principal. Minutes later, the boy threw a trash can into the window and left the campus.

The officials called 911 four times.

The court filing says the four calls came between 12:58 p.m. and 1:10 p.m. The calls described to the dispatchers what J.H. had on, that he had assaulted the principal, erroneously said he “punched her in the jaw,” she required “medical attention,” and that he “knocked” her to the ground.

The school, in their report of the incident, never communicated the child had a disability.

Within minutes Sgt. Steven Trapani, Deputy Gary Bavaret, Deputy Colin Dunning, and Deputy Brandon Cheron arrived at the school. When they found J.H. outside the building, but in the area of the campus, he was crying, “disassociating, non-communicative, and clearly manifesting symptoms of his disabilities,” the claim states.

“Sgt. Trapani forcefully grabbed J.H. by the arm and pulled J.H.’s arm behind his back,” the lawsuit said.

When the 4-foot-5, 93-pound boy yanked away from Trapani, then the officer “forcefully grabbed J.H., placed him in a chokehold, and pulled J.H. to the ground,” and dragged him while still holding him around his neck.

Lawyers for the family claim, “While he was in a chokehold, J.H. was fearful for his life.”

The filing says J.H.’s neighbor, close family friend, and mentor Ashely Jackson saw the interaction and offered to intervene, but was denied.

Shortly after the altercation with the boy, Trapani took him back to the principal’s office for interrogation, conducted by the other deputies.

Eventually, the sheriff’s officials handcuffed the tween for the interrogation. When he complained that the cuffs were too tight, standing up to advocate for himself in his limited capacity, the claim states an officer pushed him. J.H. responded, still with no parents around, by kicking the officer.

“J.H. was then placed in the back of a squad car and taken to the Jefferson Parish Juvenile Assessment Center. Upon arriving at the juvenile detention center, officers handcuffed J.H.’s legs and booked and processed him. [The boy was] charged with two counts of battery of a police officer, one count of resisting arrest, one count of battery of a schoolteacher, and one count of simple criminal damage of less than $1000. ” the lawsuit stated.

Five hours after the officers initially arrived at the school, the parents were allowed to see their son. When their son was released, they took him to the Children’s Hospital to be evaluated and then obtained an attorney.

In addition to financial compensation for distress and damages, the parents are asking a judge to bar school officials and law enforcement officers from using physical restraints against students.

Tragically, the Harpers say J.H. is now “extremely fearful” of police, noting once after the altercation when he was playing basketball in his own home when officers drove by he “ran inside in terror,” adding to his disorder PTSD.

Both defendants have declined comments on the altercation and/or lawsuit pending litigation.