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Disability discrimination charges were reinstated by a federal court of appeals Wednesday in a case involving an 8-year-old autistic boy who was handcuffed by a police officer after allegedly threatening harm with a jump rope.
The City of Southlake, Texas, and the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake had a memorandum of understanding under which the Southlake Police Department would provide services to the district in the form of school resource officers, according to Wednesday’s ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in City of Southlake; Southlake Police Department; Randy Baker, individually.
“S.W.,” a then-8-year-old second-grader who is autistic and has significant emotional and behavioral disabilities, was serving an in-school suspension in January 2014 when he produced a jump rope provided by the school, which he described as a “nunchucks,” which are martial arts weapons.
As he was twirling the jump rope, Mr. Baker, a Southlake police officer, handcuffed him and took him to the principal’s office, where he screamed at him, called him names including “punk” and “brat,” mocked him and laughed at him.
An internal affairs investigation later concluded Mr. Baker’s interaction with S.W. was “unprofessional and unreasonable,” and that his conduct was “demeaning, berating and antagonizing” toward S.W. He was terminated by the city as a result.
The boy’s parents filed suit against Southlake, the police department and Mr. Baker on charges including violation of the Americans with Disability Act.
The U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, Texas, dismissed the case, which was reinstated by a three-judge appeals court panel.
The defendants “consistently refer to S.W.’s ‘nunchucks’ and to his ‘weapon,’” said the ruling.
“A jump rope in the hands of an eight-year-old child is not a weapon and is not capable of inflicting the same injuries or damage as an actual weapon, such as nunchucks, in the hands of an adult,” said the ruling.
“At the very least, whether an eight-year-old twirling a child’s jump rope created a danger of physical harm potentially life-threatening situation is a dispute of material fact,” said the ruling.
“The record indicates that Baker was never properly trained to handle such situations. However, the agreement between the City and Carroll ISD provided that Baker would be informed of the need for any special accommodations and would be properly trained to deal with such issues.
“Any violation of that agreement was not the fault or responsibility of S.W.,” said the panel, in vacating the lower court’s ruling and remanding the case,
Plaintiff attorney Martin J. Cirkiel of Cirkiel & Associates P.C. in Round Rock, Texas, said “We’re very happy with the court’s decision” and the plaintiffs look forward to further proceedings in the case.
The school district’s attorney had no comment.
In 2014, the U.S. Justice Department said a New Jersey school district agreed to pay a $10,000 fine to settle a discrimination lawsuit in which it was charged with refusing to let an autistic child bring his service animal to school.
A New Jersey school district has agreed to pay a $10,000 fine to settle a discrimination lawsuit in which it was charged with refusing to let an autistic child bring his service animal to school, the U.S. Department of Justice said Tuesday.