Three Students File Lawsuit Alleging Excessive Use of Force by Abilene ISD School Resource Officer

PRESS RELEASE
April 28, 2016

Media Contact: Ranjana Natarajan, Director, Civil Rights Clinic,
rnatarajan@law.utexas.edu, 512-232-7222 (work)

Subject Area Resource Expert: Deborah Fowler, Executive Director, Texas Appleseed,
dfowler@texasappleseed.net, (512) 757-1458 (cell)

AUSTIN, Texas – Three schoolchildren, through their parents, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Abilene alleging that a School Resource Officer employed by the Abilene Police Department had violently assaulted them on three separate occasions without justification, while they were attending school in the Abilene Independent School District. The children are represented by lawyers from the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and the University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights Clinic.

The lawsuit alleges that Defendant Barry Bond used a “pain compliance” maneuver called an arm-bar against a six-year-old kindergarten student, a chokehold against a twelve-year old student, and repeatedly slammed a fifteen-year old student against the wall and to the ground. The Plaintiffs allege that they suffered physical and emotional injuries from these assaults, which happened without warning or justification. Two of the students allege they were handcuffed and detained without probable cause following Bond’s assaults. Bond was a School Resource Officer (SRO), which is a peace officer stationed on a school district campus.

Deborah Fowler, Executive Director of Texas Appleseed, said: “The police conduct described in this case – threatening and inflicting pain on schoolchildren – is unconscionable and cannot be ignored.  Texas must make systemic reforms so that incidents like these stop occurring.  Our schools should be safe places for children to learn and thrive.”

The lawsuit also alleges that the City of Abilene, acting through the Abilene Police Department, and the Abilene Independent School District, are responsible for Bond’s actions because they adopted and enforced policies allowing SROs to intervene and use force and restraint in minor school discipline incidents that do not involve criminal matters and where there is no threat of imminent physical harm or of serious property destruction, in contravention of state law and national best practices.

In a 2015 court filing, the U.S. Department of Justice emphasized that “SROs should not enforce the school code of conduct or engage in routine discipline of students” because disciplinary authority belongs to school administrators. See Statement of Interest of the United States, S.R. v. Kenton Co., 15-CV-WOB-JGW (E.D. Ky.) (Doc. 32, at 13) (Oct. 2, 2015), available at https://www.justice.gov/opa/file/780346/download. In addition, SROs should receive specialized training “to recognize and respond appropriately to youth behavior that may be a manifestation of disability.” Id. at 15.

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