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Lawsuit: Kenton Deputy Shackled 2 Covington Elementary Students

A federal lawsuit filed against the Kenton County Sheriff's Office alleges that a deputy who serves as a school resource officer at Covington Independent Public Schools used shackles on two disabled elementary students. 

The lawsuit was filed by the Children's Law Center in Covington, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Dinsmore & Shohl. The suit alleges that an 8-year old boy and a 9-year old girl had their arms locked behind their backs by Deputy Kevin Sumner. The ACLU released a video of the boy, whom the organization identifies as S.R., with handcuffs around his upper arms as he cries out in pain.

In the video Sumner tells the boy, "You don't get to swing at me like that."

According to the suit, S.R. suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and has a history of trauma. This is the video with commentary from the ACLU:

The girl, meanwhile, is being identified by the initials, L.G. According to the suit, she was twice handcuffed behind her back and also suffers from ADHD and has "special needs". The suit, filed on their behalf, says that the students were being punished for behavior related to their disabilities. 

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

In addition to Sumner, the lawsuit names Kenton County Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn, alleging his failure to adequately train and supervise Sumner, a school resource officer for several public elementary schools in Covington. The complaint further claims that the Kenton County Sheriff’s Office violated the Americans with Disabilities Act based on its treatment of the children.

"Kentucky’s school personnel are prohibited from using restraints, especially mechanical restraints, to punish children or as a way to force behavior compliance," said Kim Tandy, executive director of the Children's Law Center, in a statement. "These regulations include school resource officers. These are not situations where law enforcement action was necessary."

Sumner is retired from the Covington Police Department and was previously a teacher with Covington Schools. The deputy was profiled by The River City News in February 2014 when he assumed the role of school resource officer.

 

Sumner (center) has lunch with students at John G. Carlisle School in Covington with Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn (left) and Superintentendent Alvin Garrison (right) (RCN file)

"It's good to have a positive interaction with the kids and to be a good role model and to undo any negative stereotypes of law enforcement that some of the kids may have," Sumner told The River City News last year. He said that his experience as a teacher sets him apart from other school resource officers because he has a better understanding of classroom management and other issues facing educators. "It gives me the opportunity when I'm in the schools to have a better idea of where I fit in without being a distraction."

On Monday afternoon, Col. Pat Morgan of the Kenton County Sheriff's Office said that the department had just received a copy of the lawsuit and that the department had not yet been served. The suit is posted online. Attorneys are reviewing the case for the department, Morgan said.

Covington Independent Public Schools released a statement on Monday: "We are aware that a lawsuit was filed against the Kenton County Sheriff’s Office, and its employee, Deputy Sumner, who is assigned as a SRO within our school district. Privacy concerns of the students prevents us from speaking about this matter. However, the school district has fully cooperated with the children’s legal counsel, as well as the Sheriff’s Office in looking into the complaints and we will continue to do so. SROs are law enforcement officers, who are assigned in the schools to maintain the safety of students and staff and they act in accordance with their training as professional law enforcement officers. They are not called upon by school district staff to punish or discipline a student who engages in a school related offense."

In both cases identified in the suit, Sumner was the school resource officer who handcuffed the children. The lawsuit seeks an order requiring a change in policies by the Kenton County Sheriff's Office, and additional training for school resource officers in dealing with young children and children with special needs. It also seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages against Sumner.

"It is heartbreaking to watch my little boy suffer because of this experience," said S.R.'s mother, identified in a statement as T.R. "It's hard for him to sleep, he has anxiety, and he is scared of seeing the officer in the school. School should be a safe place for children. It should be a place they look forward to going to. Instead, this has turned into a continuing nightmare for my son." 

Both instances took place in the fall of 2014. 

The lawsuit says the boy was handcuffed for 15 minutes at Latonia Elementary. The video was captured by a school employee and given to the boy's mother who turned it over to the Children's Law Center, Tandy said. According to the suit, the boy had refused to take a seat after returning from a bathroom break with Sumner. The deputy claims that the boy took a swing at him with his elbow. A longer version of the handcuffing video shows Sumner telling the boy that the handcuffs would be removed once the boy calms down, behaves, and asks nicely.

The 9-year old girl was handcuffed at John G. Carlisle School. After experiencing some behavioral issues, the girl was assigned to an isolation room and when she tried to leave, Sumner handcuffed her, the suit claims. According to the suit, Sumner claimed in a report that the girl was trying to injure school staff. In reaction to the handcuffs, the girl suffered a mental emergency and was transported from school by an ambulance, the suit claims. Three weeks later the girl was handcuffed again when she allegedly tried to assault Sumner. 

The groups say that law enforcement in schools must be trained on how to work with children with disabilities and trauma. Learning de-escalation skills should be as common as fire drills for schools and any law enforcement officers who serve them.

"There was no public safety threat in any of these instances that warranted throwing the regulations out the window and handcuffing these children," said Kenyon Meyer, an attorney with Dinsmore & Shohl. "The school resource officer's involvement was harmful and unnecessary, and it escalated rather than helped the situations. We should expect that if school resource officers are in our school systems, their roles should be focused on safety and security, not discipline or punishment of special needs children."

The complaint, S.R. v. Kenton County Sheriff's Office, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. The lawsuit can be read in its entirety below.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Kenton Deputy Sued for Shackling Kids