The mother of a Colorado boy with autism filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday, alleging that school officials and sheriff’s deputies in a suburban Denver county “aggressively handcuffed” and detained the 11-year-old in 2019 for hours after he poked a classmate with a pencil.
The lawsuit seeking unspecified damages, filed in U.S. District Court, contends that deputies left the boy handcuffed and alone for two hours.
It also says officials didn’t seek medical attention for the boy when he banged his head on a plexiglass partition in a patrol car and that he was held in a youth detention center on various assault and resisting arrest charges until his parents could post a $25,000 bond.
The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.
The boy’s detention happened on August 29, 2019, when he poked a classmate with a pencil after the classmate wrote on him with a marker at Sagewood Middle School in the Douglas County town of Parker, according to the lawsuit. It added that the boy, whom it identified as “A.V.,” is sensitive to touch and became agitated when the classmate used the marker.
The boy was calming down with the help of the school psychologist when school resource police officers notified by the school’s principal arrived and the boy was arrested, the lawsuit says.
He was handcuffed and taken into custody for investigation of misdemeanor assault for allegedly injuring his classmate, two charges of misdemeanor harassment for allegedly striking school staff, and second-degree felony assault of a peace officer and a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest, the lawsuit says. The charges were later dropped.
“When we saw him, his forehead and arms were so swollen and bruised,” Michelle Hanson, the mother of the boy identified in documents as A.V., said in a statement released by the ACLU. “After we bailed him out, he wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t speak. A.V. was — is — definitely traumatized. We all are.”
The lawsuit claims the school district and three sheriff’s deputies acting as school resource officers violated the child’s rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act and seeks unspecified damages from the Douglas County School District, Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock and the three school resource officers.
The officers violated the boy’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure and excessive force, the lawsuit says.
In a statement late Tuesday, the sheriff’s office said it had just received the lawsuit and could not comment on it. But it did say: “When we receive a call for service, especially one that involves a criminal allegation, we must respond. In this particular incident, it was reported that a student had stabbed another student with a pair of scissors. It was also reported that a staff member had been assaulted.”
The sheriff’s office did not elaborate. According to the lawsuit, the school’s principal told two responding officers that the classmate had asked the boy to “stop doing something in class, and A.V. responded by ‘stabbing’ (the classmate) with a pencil.” The lawsuit claimed that the principal and the school’s dean of students “alleged that A.V. pushed past them” when asked to leave the classroom.
In a statement, the Douglas County School District said that it had not received the complaint and could not analyze its allegations.
The statement also said the school district does not comment about litigation and will not comment “outside of the court proceedings.”
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