NEW ORLEANS – The ACLU of Louisiana’s Justice Lab and Tulane’s Civil Rights and Federal Practice Clinic are suing the Jefferson Parish School Board and Sheriff’s Office after police placed a 10-year-old Black student with disabilities in a chokehold, dragged him, and arrested him for having an outburst at school.

In early 2021, J.H. was eating lunch after being bullied in his previous class. He was upset about being bullied because of his disabilities, so he threw a box of tissues, struck the school’s principal from behind, and ran into the hallway where he later threw a trash can through a window. School administrators called the police instead of helping J.H. through de-escalation measures, such as allowing J.H. to calm down and speak to a counselor, or allowing time for J.H.’s parents to arrive and help. 

Although the dispatcher advised the four responding officers that the student was on medication, the officers took no heed. When the officers arrived, J.H. was walking, crying, emotional, and non-communicative. Instead of trying to speak to J.H. about why he was upset, Officer Steven Trapani immediately attempted to handcuff him. J.H. instinctually pulled his arm away and began walking again. Trapani then grabbed J.H.’s neck and held him in a chokehold as he dragged him toward the school. Officers interrogated J.H., in handcuffs, for over an hour without allowing his parents inside. 

“The ‘threat’ posed by this 10-year-old child was clearly fabricated as a feeble excuse for the racism and disability discrimination that poisons the assumptions and decision-making process of Jefferson Parish law enforcement,” said Nora Ahmed, ACLU of Louisiana Legal Director. “It is hard to fathom how the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office could knowingly put a 10-year-old child’s life at risk, particularly when that child’s behaviors were a manifestation of his disabilities. This incident is just another result of this agency’s dangerously inadequate use-of-force policy. The department must change course before unprepared officers put more children in harm’s way.”

“All children have the right to feel safe at school, including students who are acting out because of their disabilities,” said Lucia Blacksher Ranier, Director of the Tulane Civil Rights and Federal Practice Clinic. “The school administrators’ decision to call 911 and the officers’ immediate resort to violence destroyed the community’s sense of safety, and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws prohibiting disability discrimination. Our clients filed this suit so that schools and police will stop criminalizing Black children with disabilities and instead support school communities that are safe for all students to learn and grow.” 

Following the interrogation at the elementary school, officers then took J.H. to the Jefferson Parish Juvenile Assessment Center where he was detained for four hours and not allowed to see his parents.

The lawsuit, Hutchinson-Harper v. Jefferson Parish School Board, et al., points to violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Louisiana State Constitution, and other Louisiana laws.