The U.S. Department of Justice has weighed in on a lawsuit filed by the mother of an 11-year-old boy with autism who accused Douglas County school resource officers of “aggressively” handcuffing the child and locking him up after he poked a classmate with a pencil.
In a filing titled “Statement of Interest of the United States of America,” Justice Department attorneys argued against a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and the Douglas County School District.
The incident that prompted the lawsuit occurred at Sagewood Middle School in Parker.
The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, names the Douglas County School District, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, and three deputies who arrested the boy on Aug. 29, 2020. The sheriff and the deputies were sued individually.
A body camera worn by one of the deputies captured the arrest – and the wails of the boy, referred to as A.V. in the lawsuit.
“Stop, you’re hurting me,” he yelled at one point. “Stop.”
> Video above: Mother of 11-year-old with autism filed a federal lawsuit after Douglas County sheriff's deputies handcuffed the boy
The lawsuit alleges that the officers left the boy handcuffed and alone for two hours, failed to seek medical attention for him even though they were aware that he was banging his head on a Plexiglass partition in the patrol car, and took him to a youth detention center, where he was held on $25,000 bail.
Criminal charges of assault, assault on a police officer, harassment and resisting arrest were dropped after the boy's parents agreed he would participate in a one-year diversion program, his mother, Michelle Hanson, told 9Wants to Know.
ACLU of Colorado is representing Hanson in the lawsuit, which alleges violations of the student's rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 4th Amendment.
In the new filing, Justice Department attorneys asked the court to consider its position – namely that the school district and sheriff’s office were required by the ADA to make “reasonable modifications” to their handling of the boy because of his autism.
“A public entity violates the ADA where its officers or agents fail to provide reasonable modifications to policies, practices or procedures during an arrest when such modifications are necessary to avoid disability discrimination, unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity,” Justice Department attorneys wrote. “The reasonable modification obligation may include making changes to the usual ways of doing things to accommodate an arrestee’s disability.
The school district and sheriff’s office have argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed.
“Defendants’ reading of the law cannot be squared with the plain text of the ADA, the ADA’s implementing regulation, or the weight of circuit court authority,” Justice Department attorneys wrote.
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