DENVER – Douglas County School resource officers handcuffed an 11-year-old boy with autism, grabbed his neck, left him in a patrol car for two hours – where he hit his head repeatedly on Plexiglas – and then booked him into a juvenile prison for scratching a classmate with a pencil, according to a lawsuit filed this week.
The boy, identified by his initials AV in the lawsuit, sat quietly with the school advisor after the scratching, but began to scream when two members of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office who worked as school clerks picked him up by the arms and him Forced into handcuffs after hinting that he did not want to come into their office with them, the Colorado ACLU video showed the 2019 incident at the Sagewood Middle School shows.
School officials arrested the child on suspicion of assault, harassment, and resisting the arrest, and the boy’s parents were charged with $ 25,000 bail to get the boy out of the children’s prison, according to the lawsuit. The charges were later dropped.
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“When we saw him, his forehead and arms were so swollen and bruised,” his mother Michelle Hanson said in a press release. “AV doesn’t pop. He must have been extremely dysregulated. After we saved him, he wouldn’t eat or speak. AV was – is – definitely traumatized. We are all.”
The Colorado ACLU and Spies, Powers & Robinson law firm allege that the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and Douglas County School District failed to properly train school officials to work with children with disabilities.
“In the United States and here in Colorado, students – especially color students and students with disabilities – are suffering significant harm from SROs under the guise of school safety,” said Jack Robinson, one of the lawyers representing the child’s family. “These experiences of excessive violence and implicit biases often cause years of trauma for students and families and reinforce the school-prison pipeline. Children like AV don’t need handcuffs or criminal charges – they need compassion and an understanding of the needs of students with disabilities. “
A spokeswoman for the Douglas County School District said the district cannot comment on or respond to any active litigation. Lauren Childress, spokeswoman for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, said the agency could not discuss the allegations in the lawsuit and sent a statement via email.
“The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is committed to protecting the entire community, especially the students and staff who attend our schools,” the statement said. “When we get a call for service, especially one that is a criminal allegation, we need to respond. In this particular incident, it was reported that a student stabbed another student with scissors. It was also reported that an employee had been attacked. “
The incident began on August 29, 2019 when the 11-year-old scratched with a pencil another student who, according to legal proceedings, had drawn on him with a marker. The headmaster and dean of the students came into the classroom and asked the child to go outside, which he did. The student then sat down with the school psychologist and calmed down while listening to music, according to the lawsuit.
The school principal texted school officials about the incident, and Reps. Sidney Nicholson and Lyle Peterson arrived soon. They asked the boy to come with them.
“I will not hurt you,” said one of the MPs, according to the sheriff’s body-worn camera video of the incident.
When the child indicated that they did not want to come, the school officer said, “Well, I asked you, now I will tell you. We will go there. “
The two MPs then grabbed the child by the arms, forced him against a desk, and handcuffed the boy as he screamed, the video shows. They forced the boy to walk down the hallway while telling him to relax and calm down.
MPs left the handcuffed child in the back of the patrol car for more than two hours. During this time, according to legal proceedings, the boy repeatedly hit his head on the plexiglass inside. The school principal told MPs that the child had an emotional disability and had harmed himself in the past, the lawsuit said.
The boy’s stepfather came, but the MPs did not release the child for them or allow the two to speak, the lawsuit said. Instead, they took him to Marvin W. Foote’s youth welfare center and received no medical treatment for the child.
The boy’s mother, Hanson, said she desperately called the children’s prison to tell staff that her son had autism. She said the prison staff kept him separated from other children for about seven hours he was in the facility. The child was released after his family left bail, but his head looked disfigured when he hit him in the patrol car, Hanson said.
“He looked terrible,” she told the Denver Post. “His hands were swollen, his head was injured.”
The child would not speak or eat. Hanson didn’t hear her son’s description until a few days later they met with a criminal defense attorney, who convinced the boy to write down what had happened.
The boy never returned to school and had to go elsewhere, his mother said. Now he is visibly trembling when he sees a uniformed police officer.
“He was never afraid of going to school,” said Hanson. “He’s never had attendance problems before.”
Nicholson, one of the school’s resource officers, was still in his field training for the position at the time of the incident and was expelled from that training four days later after his supervisor Peterson said he had coped well with the lawsuit.
“The Douglas County School District and Sheriff’s Office have a pattern and practice where their officials abuse situations with disabled students and unnecessarily entangle them in the criminal justice system,” said Arielle Herzberg, ACLU attorney in Colorado. “Handcuffed children should never be used as class management, and it is unacceptable for parents to pay thousands of dollars as bail for their safe return.”
The allegations come because Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill that bans the use of money bonds in juvenile cases, but still allows a judge to keep a child out of bond if the juvenile poses a safety or flight hazard. The legislation would reduce the maximum number of youth prison beds available across the state by about 43%, from 327 to 188.
“In this case, AV was lucky that his parents were able to collect a bail at short notice and get him out,” said Herzberg. “Not all parents can do that.”
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