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ACLU Sues Flint Police for Handcuffing Seven-Year-Old Boy with Disabilities

The ACLU of Michigan announced today a federal lawsuit against the Flint police for placing a disabled child, Cameron McCadden, in handcuffs when he was seven years old.

The incident took place while Cameron was attending an after-school program in October 2015. At the time, he was less than four feet tall and weighed 55 pounds. Cameron did not at any time pose a danger of physical harm to himself or anyone else.

“My seven-year-old child was abused and traumatized by this experience,” said Chrystal McCadden, Cameron’s mother. “They kept him locked in handcuffs for nearly an hour. We’re going to court to win justice for Cameron – and to make sure no child is ever treated that way in Flint, ever again.”

“Putting handcuffs on a seven-year-old child and locking his hands behind his back is inhumane. It’s barbaric. It violates every rule of common sense,” said Mark Fancher, racial justice attorney at the ACLU of Michigan. “This reprehensible act also violates the U.S. Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the federal Rehabilitation Act, and the laws and policies of the state of Michigan.”

Cameron, who is African-American, has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), under terms of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 

On October 12, 2015, while participating in the YouthQuest after school program at Brownell STEM Academy in Flint, Cameron experienced disability-related behavioral challenges. He reportedly kicked a supply cart and ran around on the school bleachers. In response, YouthQuest personnel called for a school resource officer (SRO) from the Flint Police Department and also called Cameron’s mother, Chrystal McCadden.  The complaint filed today also names YouthQuest as a defendant. 

Flint Police Officer Terrance Walker arrived at the school. Walker handcuffed Cameron, locking his hands behind his back. Chrystal McCadden arrived at the school minutes afterward and demanded that handcuffs be removed from her son. Officer Walker responded that the key was in a lockbox and he was waiting for a police cruiser to bring it to the school. Cameron remained locked with handcuffs behind his back for nearly an hour in the lobby of the building, in full view of other students, parents and after-school personnel.

“You can’t handcuff a child who never should have been handcuffed in the first place and then tell his mother you can’t find the key,” said Jonathan Marko of Marko PLC, an ACLU cooperating attorney who is also representing the McCadden family. “YouthQuest should not respond to disability behavior by calling police.And police should recognize that it is not their role to handcuff 7-year olds for running around because they have ADHD.”

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, students with disabilities are only 12 percent of public school students, but account for 75 percent of students subjected to physical restraint in schools. African-American students represent 19 percent of students with disabilities, but account for 36 percent of these students who are subjected to mechanical restraint such as handcuffs.

Since 2014, the Flint Police Department has doubled the number of officers in public schools.But the department has not designed or implemented policies, procedures or training on how to work with children, how to de-escalate conflict, and how to avoid the use of force against students like Cameron.

“No child should ever be locked in handcuffs,” said Bishop Bernadel Jefferson, pastor of Faith Deliverance Center in Flint, CEO of CAUTION, and an executive board member of the Community-Based Organizations Partnership (CBOP).  “We also have to ask: What are police officers doing in our elementary schools? After all we have been through in Flint, our children need counselors, tutors, nurses and other resources to help them recover from the effects of lead poisoning. We don’t need to be paying police to come in and handcuff small children.”

McCadden v. City of Flint, et al. was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.  

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