Sheriff's deputy shackled elementary school students who had disabilities, federal lawsuit alleges

Dylan Stableford
A boy is seen restrained with handcuffs by a sheriff's deputy in a video released by the ACLU. (Photo: YouTube/ACLU)

A Kentucky deputy sheriff restrained two elementary school children with disabilities using handcuffs, shackling their arms behind their backs and causing them pain and emotional trauma, a new federal lawsuit alleges.

According to the lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Children's Law Center and law firm Dinsmore & Shohl in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky on Monday, Kevin Sumner, a Kenton County deputy sheriff and school resource officer in Covington, restrained the 8-year-old boy once and 9-year-old girl twice in three separate incidents last fall.

A video released by the ACLU shows an officer, identified as Sumner, shackling the boy, identified as S.R. in the lawsuit, with handcuffs clasped around his biceps inside the vice principal's office at the school.

"You don't get to swing at me like that," Sumner can be heard telling the crying third grader as he is handcuffed. "You can do what we ask you to or you can suffer the consequences."

An unidentified member of the school's staff videotaped the Nov. 13, 2014, incident, the ACLU said.

According to the lawsuit, the 52-pound boy, who had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), was restrained by Sumner for 15 minutes.

When the boy's parents arrived at the school to take him home, Sumner allegedly told them he would "return to the school with his handcuffs if [the boy] did not behave."

The boy's parents say he experienced physical pain, anxiety and "significant emotional stress" as a result of being shackled.

The suit alleges that Sumner used the same shackling tactic on the 9-year-old girl, identified as L.G, on two occasions in October 2014.

The fourth grader, who had been diagnosed with ADHD, weighed about 56 pounds at the time of alleged incidents. In an Oct. 3 incident report cited by the lawsuit, Sumner stated that the girl was "attempting to injure the school staff," and that she remained handcuffed for 20 minutes before a "medical crisis team" could arrive.

In the second incident, on Oct. 23, the girl was restrained for 30 minutes. According to the complaint, the girl's mother witnessed Sumner holding her daughter's hands "over her head while handcuffed in a shoulder hypertension position." She continues to suffer emotional stress as a result of the second handcuffing, the lawsuit claims.

In 2012, the Kentucky Board of Education adopted regulations prohibiting school personnel from using mechanical restraints such as handcuffs on students.

"Physical restraint shall not be used ... as punishment or discipline" or "to force compliance," the law states.

"Shackling children is not OK. It is traumatizing, and in this case it is also illegal," Susan Mizner, disability counsel for the ACLU, said in a statement. "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."

The lawsuit also names Kenton County Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn for allegedly failing to adequately train and supervise Sumner, and the Kenton County Sheriff's Office for "disability-based discrimination" in its treatment of the children — a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Kenton County Sheriff's Col. Pat Morgan told Yahoo News that the department could not comment because its attorneys had not yet seen the lawsuit.

The ACLU is seeking "an order requiring a change in policies by the Kenton County Sheriff's Office, additional training for school resource officers in dealing with young children and children with special needs," and unspecified monetary damages.

Update: Korzenborn released a statement Tuesday standing behind Sumner, saying he did nothing wrong:


School superintendents and administrators want, need and provide a safe environment for students and teachers. School personnel are permitted, like any other citizen, to request the assistance of a law enforcement Deputy. Covington Schools' personnel requested assistance from the police during school hours after school administrators' efforts to deescalate and defuse a threat to others had proven unsuccessful. Deputy Sumner responded to the call and did what he is sworn to do and in conformity with all constitutional and law enforcement standards. In this particular case, all the facts and circumstances have not yet been presented. I steadfastly stand behind Deputy Sumner who responded to the school's request for help. Deputy Sumner is a highly respected and skilled law enforcement Deputy, and is an asset to the community and those he serves.