A 13-year-old was handcuffed and hauled off to a juvenile detention for burping in class, according to a lawsuit filed against an Albuquerque school principal, a teacher and school police officer.
The boy was transported without his parents being notified in May after he "burped audibly" in PE class and his teacher called a school resource officer to complain he was disrupting her class. The lawsuit also details a separate Nov. 8 incident when the same student was forced to strip down to his underwear while five adults watched as he was accused of selling pot to another student; the boy was never charged.
The suit was one of two filed Wednesday by civil rights attorney Shannon Kennedy, who says she has been fighting the district and police for years over the use of force with problem children. She says a review of school and Bernalillo County records shows more than 200 school kids have been handcuffed and arrested in the last three years for non-violent misdemeanors.
In the second lawsuit filed Wednesday, the parents of a 7-year-old boy with autism accuse a school officer of unlawful arrest for handcuffing the boy to a chair after he became agitated in class. New Mexico law prohibits officers and school officials from restraining children under 11.
The suits come one year after the same attorney settled a class action lawsuit against the district that was prompted by the arrest of a girl who Kennedy said "didn't want to sit by the stinky boy in class." And Kennedy says she has a number of other cases she is preparing over treatment of students in Albuquerque by school officials, school police, city police and sheriff's officers.
"I am trying to get all the stake holders in a room to get people properly trained to prevent this from happening," Kennedy said.
Kennedy said the problem lies with the schools more than with the law enforcement agencies.
"It lands in the lap of the principal. There are good schools and bad schools. The principals ... who are handling their schools properly don't need to have children arrested. It's ridiculous."
A spokesman for Albuquerque Public Schools did not immediately return calls and emails seeking comment on Thursday. A police spokeswoman said the department does not comment on litigation.
One school board member, Lorenzo Garcia, said he had not seen and could not comment on the lawsuits, but he did say he was concerned about what appeared to be schools getting stuck on a "zero tolerance policy."
"Really, in my opinion, this really increases the whole idea of the schools-to-prison pipeline," he said.