Constitutional Law

Handcuffing of second grader didn't violate his constitutional rights, 8th Circuit says

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A 7-year-old elementary school student who was handcuffed by a police officer for 20 minutes can’t sue because there was no violation of his constitutional rights, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at St. Louis tossed the suit filed on behalf of the second grader referred to as “K.W.P.” in the Aug. 1 opinion. Education Week and Slate have coverage noted by How Appealing.

The 8th Circuit said the Kansas City, Missouri, police officer and school principal were entitled to qualified immunity because they didn’t violate K.W.P.’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and excessive force. Chief Judge Lavenski Smith, an appointee of President George W. Bush, wrote the opinion.

K.W.P.’s problems began when he became upset by a classmate’s teasing April 30, 2014. K.W.P. yelled at the classmate. When a second school employee entered the classroom, K.W.P. became even angrier. A police officer who was at the school at the time was asked to intervene.

The officer twice asked K.W.P. to accompany him to the hallway. K.W.P. finally complied, but he acknowledged trying to get away as they were both walking. The officer grabbed K.W.P.’s wrist, and K.W.P. responded by jerking his body away. The officer says he warned K.W.P. that he would be handcuffed if he didn’t calm down.

K.W.P. grabbed a handrail on the side of the hallway, and the officer put the handcuffs on the boy. The officer took the boy to the front office, where the principal saw the handcuffs but did not ask that they be taken off. The officer removed the handcuffs when the boy’s father arrived at the school.

Based on K.W.P.’s own admissions, a reasonable officer could have concluded that the child had committed “an act of violent resistance” that justified handcuffing, the court said. Even though the boy was not resisting for the 15 minutes that he sat handcuffed in the office, a reasonable officer could have concluded that keeping the handcuffs on until a parent arrived was a reasonable course of action, according to the court.

The principal’s failure to intervene was reasonable because of a previous encounter with K.W.P., the court said. The principal had grabbed K.W.P.’s wrists when he tried to leave the playground after she told him that he could not hit other people. K.W.P. had tried to pull away in that incident, as well.

The case is K.W.P. v. Kansas City Public Schools.

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