August 17, 2019

Tenth Circuit: No Fourth Amendment Violation When Officer Arrested 11-Year-Old Special Education Student

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in J.H. v. Bernalillo County on Friday, November 27, 2015.

J.P. was an 11-year-old special needs student in a special education classroom when a school resource officer, Deputy Sharkey, saw her kick her teacher. Deputy Sharkey arrested J.P. and handcuffed her, then transported her to a juvenile detention facility. J.P.’s mom, J.H., sued Deputy Sharkey and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of the Fourth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court dismissed the due process claims and granted summary judgment to Deputy Sharkey and the county on the Fourth Amendment and ADA claims. J.H. appealed.

On appeal, J.H. contended the district court erred in granting summary judgment because Deputy Sharkey lacked probable cause and used excessive force in arresting J.P. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, noting that J.P. assaulted her teacher by kicking her and that provided probable cause for the arrest. The Tenth Circuit noted that J.H.’s argument was invalid because Deputy Sharkey could lawfully arrest J.P. after observing her commit the crime of kicking her teacher. J.H. argued the crime could not constitute a felony because J.P. was a minor at the time, but did not deny that the kick was unlawful. The Tenth Circuit found this fatal to J.H.’s arguments.

J.H. also contended that Deputy Sharkey used excessive force by handcuffing J.P., but the Tenth Circuit again disagreed, finding nothing excessive about the use of handcuffs. The Tenth Circuit noted that once he made the arrest, Deputy Sharkey was free to protect himself by restricting J.P.’s freedom of movement. The Tenth Circuit similarly rejected J.H.’s ADA claims, finding that J.P. never requested an accommodation so Deputy Sharkey could not have erred in failing to provide one. The Circuit likewise found no error in taking J.P. to the juvenile detention center instead of waiting for her mother to arrive at the school.

The Tenth Circuit next addressed J.H.’s Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claims, which were premised on the same arguments as the Fourth Amendment claims. The Tenth Circuit found that the district court properly dismissed the Fourteenth Amendment claims because J.H.’s factual allegations did not implicate the Fourteenth Amendment.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on J.H.’s ADA claims. J.H. alleged that Deputy Sharkey discriminated against J.P. by making the arrest based on manifestations of her disability and failing to make reasonable accommodations during the arrest. The Tenth Circuit denied that Deputy Sharkey had reason to be aware of J.P.’s disability and reasoned that since J.P. did not request an accommodation, Deputy Sharkey did not err in failing to provide one.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court.

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