Update: “No Child Left In Handcuffs”
Back in August, I posted about a lawsuit in which an elementary school student was suing the school resource officer because the sro, in response to the student’s smarting off to a teacher, cuffed the student and threatened to throw her in jail.
A reader sent me a link to the results of the lawsuit:
An Alabama police officer did minimal harm to a nine-year-old girl by handcuffing her after she threatened a teacher, a jury has ruled, awarding the student only $1 in damages.
Laquarius Gray prevailed in the liability portion of a one-day trial on her civil rights claim as U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon found that, as a matter of law, the officer illegally detained her during a physical education class at a Tuscaloosa elementary school.
Sheriff’s Deputy Antonio Bostic, who worked as a resource officer at several schools, claimed he heard Gray threaten to punch a coach who was trying to get her to do jumping jacks exercises. “[T]his is how it feels to be in jail,” he told her while she was in handcuffs for at least five minutes.
But on the issue of damages, the jury apparently agreed with the defense, which argued in a briefthat “the Defendant did not cause anything more than de minimis physical injury to the Plaintiff.” Gray’s lawyers presented no expert testimony on damages.
The nominal compensatory award amounts to less than a slap on the wrist for Bostic. Last year, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Gray had suffered “an obvious violation” of her Fourth Amendment rights in denying summary dismissal of the case.
“[T]he handcuffing was excessively intrusive given Gray’s young age and the fact that it was not done to protect anyone’s safety,” the opinion said, concluding that, “Every reasonable officer would have known that handcuffing a compliant nine-year-old child for purely punitive purposes is unreasonable.”
This does not mean Bostic escapes all responsibility for his unlawful actions.
Congress long ago realized that 1) every violation of a constitutional right is a serious matter, but 2) those violations sometimes don’t result in monetary harm, and 3) going to court is an expensive process. So, to encourage the vindication of rights, Congress provided (at 42 USC 1988) that prevailing parties in civil rights cases can recover their attorney’s fees from the losing side. And, as this case illustrates, that is perfectly fair. Someone has to bear the costs of vindicating the victim’s rights, the question is who: The victim of the unlawful activity? The attorney who spent his time and effort arguing the victim’s case? Or the bad guy? Surely it ought to be the bad guy. After all, the whole situation is his fault.
Anyway, given that in this case the liability was clear and that it has involved all the time and energy of an appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, those fees ought to be fairly substantial.