ACLU Sues Tiverton, Says 3rd Grader Arrested Without Cause
Friday, December 04, 2015
The lawsuit argues that the school and police officials unlawfully and unnecessarily searched and detained the child, violating her constitutional rights to due process and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. The suit is being filed on behalf of the child and her parents.
“It is unfortunate that we have been reduced to arresting without cause third grade children in the name of public safety. We must not forget that when officials fail to exercise common sense discretion, overreactions like this can significantly harm affected children," said ACLU attorney Amato DeLuca.
On October 24, 2014, a student falsely told a school bus attendant that the girl and another student had "chemicals" in their backpacks. The bus was stopped and Tiverton Police officers and school officials were called to the scene.
The officers removed the two 8-year old girls from the school bus and found no evidence of chemicals in their bags upon searching them. The police then took the girls to the police station before contacting their parents and without any school officials present.
Once parents arrived, the girl was questioned and accused of not telling the truth before being released.
That night, the school robocalled all elementary school parents, wrongly informing them that two students claimed to have chemicals and made threats to set a school bus on fire.
No further action was taken against the accused students while the girl who made the accusations was disciplined.
The lawsuit makes claims against the Town for providing “no training or grossly inadequate training to its police officers and school department employees regarding their duties, responsibilities and conduct toward minor school children and their parents; use of force; preventing abuse of authority, communicating with parents of students in their care, custody and control; apprehension of school children and their arrest or detention.”
“Whether it is a Texas high school student getting arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school or a Tiverton third-grader being arrested and interrogated by police on the basis of completely unsubstantiated accusations, the rush to violate students’ rights in the name of ‘safety’ has to stop. We recognize that school officials should be vigilant in protecting children. However, turning eight-year-olds into police suspects in the absence of any evidence whatsoever is traumatizing and undermines, rather than furthers, the educational mission of a school. We hope this lawsuit will make police and school officials think twice before terrorizing young children in this fashion," said ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown.
The suit seeks a court order finding the actions and policies of town officials throughout the incident were illegal, as well as damages for mental anguish and emotional distress, punitive damages and attorneys fees.
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