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Cops Handcuff 9-Year-Old Black Boy with Special Needs to a Pole as He Experiences a Mental Health Crisis at Massachusetts School

A Massachusetts school district and a city police department have come under fire for calling multiple officers to a classroom to respond to a 9-year-old Black student’s mental health crisis by handcuffing him to a pole to restrain him before taking him to a local hospital where authorities held him in adult custody.

The Lawyers for Civil Rights alongside Anderson Krieger LLC law firm in Boston wrote a letter to the Walpole Public School System and the Walpole Police Department demanding the district take action and implement “wide-ranging reform.”

The letter recounts the incident that happened on Jan. 12. A third-grade student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and delayed intelligence “became dysregulated while in his elementary school class,” according to both groups.

Left photo: An African-American child suffering from PTSD after being abused and neglected. Right photo: Wadpole Police Department squad vehicle. (Photos: Getty Images, Facebook/Walpole Police Department)

The student’s individualized education plan has procedures in place to apply positive reinforcement that will help regulate his behavior. Instead of implementing those school measures, the staff called the school resource officer who then called in officers from the Walpole Police Department.

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Two Walpole police officers arrived and forcibly handcuffed the child and restrained his arms and legs. At that point, he was taken to a nearby hospital and held in custody where he was unable to reach his mother until he was discharged.

Erika Richmond, an attorney with Lawyers for Civil Rights, stated, “The actions taken by Walpole Public Schools and the Walpole Police Department against this 9-year-old boy were egregious, age-inappropriate, and directly contradicted the school’s own guidance for regulating his behavior.”

She said the incident exemplifies the “adultification” of Black children. This is a form of discrimination where Black children are perceived and treated as older than they are, and WPS staff did frequently describe the child as “big for his age” and “stronger than he looks.” The letter both groups wrote also cites this case as an example of the “over-policing of Black schoolchildren.”

“Because of this bias, a situation that could easily have been de-escalated instead led to a young Black boy being handcuffed and held in adult custody,” Richmond added.

“It was an egregious departure from procedure and basic decency, evidencing either a complete lack of training for this scenario, or worse, willful neglect. It cannot happen again,” said Matthew Bowser, an associate attorney with Anderson Kreiger LLP.

According to WBUR, Walpole Public Schools superintendent Bridget Gough released a statement, which in part said: “Walpole schools are committed to the safety and education of all of our students, regardless of race or other protected characteristics.” Gough stated she could not comment further on the incident without parental permission.

Richmond said the family did not want to speak publicly to protect their son’s privacy.

Walpole police chief Richard M. Kelleher in an emailed letter confirmed that his department did respond to an elementary school in January “to assist staff with a student.” He declined to comment further on the incident or on the actions of the officers who responded.

Both groups demanded that the school district and police department apologize to the family. The boy’s family is currently exploring all legal options to hold Walpole Public Schools and the town’s police department accountable.

A legal memorandum of understanding for Massachusetts schools addresses the powers of school resource officers. It states, “School staff shall not ask an SRO to serve as a school disciplinarian or enforcer of school regulations.”

Additionally, the document states that school resource officers should not “use police powers to address traditional school discipline issues, including non-violent disruptive behavior.” However, for issues of safety, the school can request an SRO who “may act to de-escalate the immediate situation (where feasible) and to protect the physical safety of members of the school community.”

What people are saying

9 thoughts on “Cops Handcuff 9-Year-Old Black Boy with Special Needs to a Pole as He Experiences a Mental Health Crisis at Massachusetts School

  1. Ophelia clines says:

    These officer’s need to take child development classes.How would they feel if it was their child? We are human beings we have feeling’s,we care,we hurt, we love just like you and your families. Do you have a heart ?Because, it’s black child,he or her should be treated as child and that goes for any other race. And tho

  2. Marion King says:

    Walpole is a predominantly white suburban town. While one of my children attended a regional school within its boundaries, their principal (not affiliated with Walpole Public School District) threatened to call the police when my (caucasian) high school student – whose IEP that principal was violating – was crying in the restroom and refusing to come out. I heard the principal make that threat while I was trying to calm my child over the phone. I called the Walpole police and begged them NOT to come to the school as this would have further traumatized my child. I was reassured, and told that the principal had not in fact called the police. I drove there as fast as I could and brought my child home.

    The systems in our society are only as functional as the adults with the power and control over that functionality. The education system, especially the special education system, is highly dysfunctional. The great majority of administrators – in my experience – ignore best practices, ignore the humanity of our children, see them as products that are to be bullied into performing well on standardized testing to elevate the administrators’ status and earnings.

    That ANY elementary school would bring a police officer in to “de-escalate” the behavior of a 3rd grade student is evidence of the UTTER FAILURE of its educational administration to treat our children with care and respect. That THIS student, with a prior diagnosis of PTSD, was even exposed to the officer in a position of authority within the school setting, virtually guarantees additional trauma and you can bet your bottom dollar that he will NOT receive the services he will require to overcome this.

  3. Karen Porter says:

    It so sad that blacks get treated so bad even our children these people go to church and still have not learned anything but i still pray for change that is all we can do

  4. Nancy says:

    Disgrace. That poor child. He will be forever scarred

  5. Castillo says:

    This is an example of the lack of education these so called teachers and administrators have. The teacher was not familiar with the students plan and administrators did not bother to look it up and follow it.
    Parents stand your ground. You are your child’s only advocate. Fight for your child’s rights and don’t let anyone take those rights away from them or you. Best of luck as you legally follow through and fight for your child’s rights.

  6. Lew Banelis says:

    Police are not trained in the skills needed by a young black boy in a mental health crisis. The school resource officer failed the boy as well. The hospital also failed the boy. 3 layers of people who are supposed to protect the boy just traumatized the boy even worse.
    No wonder parents home school their children when they are able to!

  7. William Lexner says:

    This town, Walpole, MA, is infamous for their Rebels mascot and the flying of the Confederate Flag. I’m not surprised by this at all.

  8. Dene Winstead says:

    Racism, make it COSTLY make it Painful for the perpetrators. Accountability and Justice. Legal actions against the schools and the police department. A White student would not be treated this way. UNACCEPTABLE ON EVERY LEVEL.

  9. Adam says:

    Walpole is a racist town. People openly fly the confederate flag on there cars and flag poles at home.
    If you’re a person of color your NOT the victim your the perp as far as the police are concerned.

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