Lawsuit Seeks Injunctive Relief and Damages for Black Child with Disabilities Who Was Handcuffed, Forcibly Detained by Moreno Valley Campus Security Officers and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department

Press Release
A young child in handcuffs

Plaintiff also calls for the School District to invest in positive supports for students and end its harsh and controversial reliance on police intervention, which results in handcuffing, restraint, arrest, campus removal, and hospitalization for disability-related behaviors.

(Moreno Valley, CA) – On February 4th, Disability Rights California, Barajas & Rivera APC, and Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking an injunction and damages against the Moreno Valley Unified School District (MVUSD), District Superintendent Martinrex Kedziora, Riverside County, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, and Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco for harm caused to an 11-year-old Black student (C.B.) injured by school police. The initials of the child and his parents have been abbreviated to protect their identities.

The complaint alleges that school police officers used excessive force and discriminated against C.B. based on his disability and race when they violently handcuffed him multiple times on MVUSD middle school campuses. In addition, the Plaintiff asserts that Defendants’ actions, inactions, policies, practices, customs, and procedures violated and continue to violate his rights under the U.S. and California Constitutions, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and multiple state civil rights laws, in addition to several common law torts.

“No parent should ever have to experience what we went through with our disabled son,” said B.T., mother of C.B., the abused child.

“No student should have to experience what our son endured. No police should slam a child to the ground and handcuff them when they aren’t doing anything wrong. My son had his head on his desk, being very calm, as he’d been instructed to do. My son should not have had to call me from the back of the police car begging for help while school officials where the incident occurred didn’t even know what had happened. This disconnect exposes several serious problems. There should be better staff or therapists to help disabled children, and there should not be police at schools, especially when they abuse students that they are not trained to serve or support.”

“Our son C.B. was abused by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and Moreno Valley USD Campus Security Officers while he was at school trying to get an education,” added W.B., the boy’s father. “He was handcuffed at least four times in four months for doing nothing wrong -- except being born Black with disabilities. During one of the incidents, bodycam footage shows he was just sitting at his desk with his head down when law enforcement pulled him from his desk and tackled him to the floor for refusing to go to the office. They slammed his head to the floor, put a knee on his neck and then on his back, while brutally handcuffing him for doing nothing wrong. These officers should be removed from duty and charged for abusing a child with disabilities. To prevent this from happening again, all school resource officers should be removed from Moreno Valley schools and replaced with counselors, therapists, and staff members who are trained, and better equipped, to work with disabled children. Specialized training that is done with care, not violence, should be a requirement for everyone in the school system who works with children that have disabilities.”

Background

The District, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, and Riverside County partner to operate a discipline system that discriminates against students with disabilities and Black students, including Black disabled students. The District employs its own Campus Security Officers (CSOs) and contracts with the Sheriff’s Department to provide School Resource Officers (SROs) at District schools. The District calls on CSOs and SROs (together, “school police officers”) to respond with physical force to minor and/or disability-related behaviors that could be managed by teachers or administrators with less harmful methods, such as crisis intervention, de-escalation, patience, communication, and waiting.

Over a four-month period, C.B., a Black student with disabilities who was then 11-years-old, was handcuffed four times by school police officers for exhibiting disability-related behaviors that posed no danger of physical harm to anyone. Bodycam video of one of these incidents is available at: https://vimeo.com/438028598.

In June 2020, Plaintiffs submitted a tort claim to MVUSD and other responsible entities giving formal notice to the District, Riverside County, and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department about the harm to C.B. seeking to eliminate such discriminatory disciplinary practices going forward and replace them with meaningful accommodations that protect and support all students – including those with disabilities.

Shortly after Plaintiff submitted his tort claim, the District’s Board conducted a “Study Session” to gather community input regarding the School Resource Officers (SRO) program. During this Session, the Board received nearly fifty public comments, with all but five urging the Board to abolish the SRO program and reinvest its $1.3 million-dollar budget in mental health supports, restorative justice, culturally relevant curricula, and other non-police programming. Many speakers specifically cited the officers’ abuse of C.B. as reason to make these changes. The Board, however, did not abolish the SRO program or invest in any alternative positive supports.

The District, the Riverside County, and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department fail students with emotional and behavioral disabilities by utilizing antiquated and dangerous school policing programs that fail to provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities, often making matters worse by causing further harm.

This preventable situation illustrates how the presence of law enforcement and the use of physical force in schools unnecessarily hurts and traumatizes students. In addition to seeking damages for this student, the filing also demands the District stop school police officers from mechanically restraining students and intervening in low level and disability-related behaviors, up to and including ordering school police officers to cease patrolling District schools. Instead of police intervention, C.B. asks the District to invest in positive supports and services, so that he and other District students can enjoy full and equal access to the District’s programs.

“Across California, schools are eleven times more likely to subject Black children with disabilities to police than white non-disabled children. As C.B.’s experience illustrates, MVUSD over polices its students, particularly disabled students and Black students. Officers’ use of force against students creates a dangerous and traumatizing school environment,” said Lindsay Appell, Staff Attorney, Disability Rights California.

"All students—including those with disabilities—have the right to feel safe at school. MVUSD’s reliance on police not only threatens assumed safety, it is also contrary to that right, and is particularly harmful for Black students,” said Malhar Shah, Staff Attorney for Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund.

“Studies have shown that a child who has been suspended is more likely to be held back a grade, drop out, commit a crime, and/or end up incarcerated as an adult,” said Maronel Barajas, Partner at Barajas & Rivera, APC. “Over-zealous discipline policies, like those of the MVUSD, encourage harsh punishments by police which push students, especially Black students with disabilities, out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system for conduct that is typical adolescent behavior. These practices must end.”

Significant Documents

Media Contacts

Lawrence Carter-Long
Director of Communications
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
(510) 544-6555 ext. 5256, 
LCarterLong@dredf.org

Melody Pomraning
Communications Director
Disability Rights California
(916) 504-5938
Melody.Pomraning@disabilityrightsca.org

 

 

Disability Rights California (DRC) – Is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to advance the rights, dignity, equal opportunities, and choices for all people with disabilities. For more information visit: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org.

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) – Founded in 1979, is a leading national civil rights law and policy center directed by individuals with disabilities and parents who have children with disabilities. DREDF works to advance the civil and human rights of people with disabilities through legal advocacy, training, education, and public policy and legislative development.

Barajas & Rivera, APC – Is a plaintiff-side civil rights law firm focusing on disability access and special education. B&R believes in using the power of law to protect civil rights and advance justice.