Training for SROs

A recent decision from the 5th Circuit draws attention to the need for good training for SROs and other law enforcement personnel who may be called on to deal with students in school.  The case has a long way to go.  The 5th Circuit held that there were fact issues that needed to be resolved before the case could be decided, and so it sent it back down to the lower court for further proceedings. But the facts that were outlined in the court’s decision indicate that the SRO handled things poorly.   The city that employed the SRO later described his conduct as “demeaning, berating and antagonizing” toward an 8-year old boy.

The story begins with that 8-year old boy out of control at school.   School officials called for the SRO to help, but instructed him to “stand and watch right here, say nothing.”  The SRO failed to comply with that directive.  Here’s how the court described it:

Seconds later, as [the student] was twirling his jump rope Baker [the SRO] handcuffed [the student] and took him to [the principal’s] office.  Baker sat face-to-face with [the student], screamed at him, called him names, including “punk” and “brat,” mocked [the student] and laughed at him.  While screaming, Baker indicated that he was reacting the way he was because of how [the student] had acted during a previous incident.

Baker continued antagonizing [the student] and aggravating the situation until [the student’s] parents arrived. When [the student’s] mother asked Baker if he realized handcuffing a child with autism would traumatize him, Baker replied: “You know what?  You’re right, I don’t know that.  I’m not a psychologist.”  With regard to [the student] having autism Baker said, “You know what, he has no sign on his head that says ‘I have autism, I hit people.’  You can’t do that in a free society.” Baker then continued to laugh and make comments like “Great parenting!”    [The student’s] mother yelled at Baker for laughing and asked for his information. Baker then demanded that they leave the school.

Yikes.  While this case has some important fact issues that are disputed, the court noted that “The parties do not contest these particular facts.”  It’s not surprising that the City’s internal investigation concluded that the officer’s conduct was “unprofessional and unreasonable,” leading to his termination.

The subsequent lawsuit was against the SRO, the City of Southlake and the police department.  As noted above, no ruling about liability has been made. But golly gee whiz does this not demonstrate that some SROs need to get some training on how to interact with children at school?  The case is Wilson v. City of Southlake, decided by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on August 28, 2019.  We found it at 936 F.3d 326. 


Tomorrow: Distracted by the cell phone…