Court sides with school district in handcuffing suit

By Jessica Shumaker
BridgeTower Media Newswires
 
ST. LOUIS, MO — A federal appeals court has ruled that Kansas City Public Schools and two of its employees did not violate the constitutional rights of a second-grade student by handcuffing him in 2014.

Earlier this month, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower-court ruling denying summary judgment for the school district, as well as Brandon Craddock, a district security officer, and Anne Wallace, an elementary school principal, finding that they each are entitled to qualified immunity.

The decision was in a lawsuit brought by K.W.P., a student at George Melcher Elementary School. According to the opinion, written by Judge Lavenski R. Smith, K.W.P. was 7 at the time of the incident.

He alleged in his lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri in 2016, that while in his classroom, a classmate was teasing him and distracting him from his school work. In response, he yelled at the classmate and later said he wanted to physically confront him.

A staff member called Craddock to the boy’s classroom to assist with an “out of control” student. Craddock did, and removed the boy from the classroom.

According to the opinion, Craddock told the boy he was not in trouble, but he wanted K.W.P. to follow him. K.W.P. admitted he did not want to follow Craddock and attempted to walk away several times, leading Craddock to grab his wrist. In response, K.W.P. cried and screamed and jerked his body away, and Craddock handcuffed the child’s hands behind his back.

Craddock took the boy to the front office, where the school’s principal saw him in handcuffs but didn’t tell Craddock to remove them. According to the opinion, Wallace had a previous history with the child and had restrained him a few months prior to the incident.

In total, K.W.P. was handcuffed for about 20 minutes before his father arrived at the school.

K.W.P. sued the district, Craddock and Wallace for violations of his rights under the Fourth and 14th Amendments. He alleged that he suffered mental and emotional distress.

K.W.P. alleged Craddock unreasonably seized him and used excessive force with the handcuffs. He also alleged Wallace failed to instruct Craddock to remove the handcuffs. He additionally brought a claim against the district for failure to train and supervise Craddock.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Bough denied the defendants’ summary judgment motions, saying there were disputed material facts. They appealed to the 8th Circuit.

On appeal, they asserted that Craddock and Wallace did not violate the student’s constitutional rights by handcuffing him or keeping him in handcuffs.

They said that the officials’ actions were reasonable because of K.W.P.’s conduct, the fact he was a safety threat, his active resistance to Craddock and his history of being a flight risk and engaging in unsafe behavior.

They also argued neither Craddock nor Wallace violated a clearly established constitutional right and are entitled to summary judgment.

The court agreed, ruling that by K.W.P.’s own admissions, he attempted to flee from Craddock after he was removed from the classroom. He further resisted the officer’s directions to accompany him to the office.

The court also found the length of time K.W.P. was handcuffed did not violate his rights, and Wallace’s failure to intervene was reasonable, given her prior interactions with the boy.

“The undisputed facts show that just two months prior to the incident at issue, K.W.P. tried to leave the playground after getting mad at Principal Wallace for instructing him not to hit others,” Smith said.

“When Principal Wallace grabbed K.W.P.’s wrist to take him to the office to call his mother, K.W.P. actively resisted by trying to pull away from Principal Wallace.”

Judges Duane Benton and David R. Stras concurred.

Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, represented K.W.P.  In a statement, he said the decision departs from prior rulings that it is unconstitutional to handcuff a child when he is not a danger to others.

“It is a shame that Kansas City Public Schools continue to push for a constitutional right to handcuff children, especially knowing that this type of discipline is disproportionately used against students of color and students with disabilities, fueling the school to prison pipeline,” he said.

The school district was represented by Stephen Williams, a district attorney, as well as Dione C. Greene of the DCG Law Firm and Tyson Ketchum of Armstrong Teasdale. District attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.
 

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