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Colorado mother files lawsuit after her son with autism was handcuffed at school

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Michelle Hanson, Colorado mother of an 11 year old boy with autism (referred to as A.V.), has filed a federal lawsuit, accusing Douglas County school resource officers of “aggressively” handcuffing her son and locking him up after he poked a classmate with a pencil at Sagewood Middle School in Parker.

Douglas County sheriff’s spokeswoman Lauren Childress declined to comment on the lawsuit, but did say the original call reported that a student had been stabbed with a pair of scissors and that a staff member had been assaulted.

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 Augusr 29, 2020. The sheriff and the deputies were sued individually.

A body camera worn by one of the deputies captured the arrest – and the cries of A.V.

“Stop, you’re hurting me,” he yelled at one point. “Stop.”

The suit alleges that the officers left the boy handcuffed and alone for two hours, did not seek medical attention for him even though they knew 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 in exchange for the boy participating in a one-year diversion program.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado is also a plaintiff in the suit, which alleges violations of the student’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fourth Amendment.

School officials at Sagewood Middle School reported an altercation between two students — one of whom allegedly drew on A.V. with markers — and three school resource officers, employed by the sheriff’s department, responded.

The video clip made public by the ACLU shows the boy sitting in a common area as deputies tried talking to him. Within 40 seconds, the video shows one of the officers grab the boy’s wrists and begins handcuffing him. “Stop — you’re hurting me,” A.V. cries. “I’m not — we don’t want to hurt you,” an officer responds. “We just want you to walk with us, OK?”

At different points, the boy sobs and struggles as officers tried to secure the handcuffs. He yells “stop” repeatedly.

At one point, as the boy jerks his body, an officer clamps a hand on the back of his neck, saying, “You’re going to stop. Look at me. Look at me.”

“Ow — you’re choking me,” the boy responds.

ACLU attorney Arielle Herzberg believes that the boy should have been handled with more understanding due to his well-documented issues.

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