Judge Rejects Student’s Excessive Force Claim

SALISBURY — In an interesting debate over excessive force and assault versus effective discipline, a federal judge last week ruled in favor of a Wicomico County Sheriff’s deputy sued by a 10-year-old elementary school student after she was briefly handcuffed following a fight on a school bus.

In January 2015, a 10-year old female East Salisbury Elementary School student assaulted another female student on a Wicomico County school bus over an incident that began when the victim stepped on the student’s foot. According to the evidence, the student first pushed the other girl and then began striking the victim with her hands several times. The incident was captured on the bus’s video surveillance and brought to the attention of the school’s administration.

As a result, each of the students was brought to the principal’s office for a review of the incident and possible discipline. The aggressor, identified in court records only as E.W., was told of the seriousness of the incident and that she was suspended from riding the bus for three days. A female Wicomico County Sheriff’s deputy, acting in her role as the school resource officer, was brought in to explain the seriousness of the attack on the school bus, but E.W. showed no remorse and appeared disinterested in any potential punishment, according to court documents.

As a result, the Sheriff’s deputy briefly handcuffed the student and threatened to turn the case over to the Department of Juvenile Services. Only after E.W. was handcuffed did she show any remorse and the handcuffs were quickly removed. However, when the student’s mother learned of the handcuffing after picking up her child from school, she later filed suit in U.S. District Court charging the deputy with excessive force and assault and battery, seeking an undisclosed amount in compensatory and punitive damages.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge J. Frederick Motz ruled in favor of the deputy and school resource officer, granting the officer’s motion for summary judgment and effectively ending the case.

“The student asserts claims for the use of excessive force in violation of federal and state law,” the judge’s opinion reads. “However, on the facts as stated, no excessive force was employed. The student was handcuffed only for approximately two minutes and the handcuffs were released when she showed remorse for the incident.”

The case raised an interesting debate over the alleged use of excessive force, a topic certainly timely in the news currently. In the end, the judge opined the officer’s brief use of handcuffs on the 10-year-old student achieved the desired results in terms of getting the child to realize the gravity of the situation.

“The principal and the sheriff’s deputy emphasized the seriousness of the situation to the student,” the opinion reads. “The student was told that adults could be jailed for such behavior. The student continued to act as if it was no big deal.”

The student at the time was around 4’4” and 95 pounds, while the deputy was 5’4” and around 150 pounds. The judge essentially ruled placing the child in handcuffs was appropriate given the events that predicated it. In the end, the judge opined the brief use of handcuffs on the unruly student was effective in teaching her the gravity of the situation.

“Soon after being handcuffed, the student began crying, saying that she did not want to go to jail and that she would not do it again,” the opinion reads. “In response, the deputy removed the handcuffs. The student had been handcuffed for approximately two minutes. She did not complain about the handcuffs hurting her and she did not display any bruising related to the handcuffing.”