A 10-year-old disabled boy feared for his life last year when a Louisiana sheriff’s deputy responding to a school where he was in emotional distress put him in a chokehold, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the child’s parents.
Ashley Hutchinson-Harper and Terry Harper, the boy’s parents, allege the actions by responding deputies with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office on May 13, 2021, led to violations of the child’s civil rights, including failing to abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Like the sheriff's office, the Jefferson Parish School Board is also named as a defendant in the suit filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
A representative with the school district and the president of the school board declined to comment Thursday, citing the pending litigation. No one with the sheriff’s office could immediately be reached for comment.
The boy, who was identified in the lawsuit only by initials, had been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, commonly called ADHD, and oppositional defiant disorder, or ODD, the suit said.
The Mayo Clinic describes ODD as a frequent and persistent pattern of anger, irritability, arguing, defiance or vindictiveness by children toward authority figures.
Because of his disabilities, the fifth grader was on an individualized education plan, the suit said.
Sheriff’s deputies were called multiple times to Congetta Trippe Janet Elementary School in Marrero because the boy had hit his principal, thrown a trash can through a window and wandered on and off the school's campus, the lawsuit said.
Once deputies arrived and found the child, they did not try to de-escalate the situation or talk to appropriate school personnel about why the boy was distraught, the suit said.
Instead, Sgt. Steven Trapani grabbed the 95-pound child’s arm and pulled it behind his back. The boy was 4 feet, 5 inches tall at the time of the alleged incident, the suit said.
Trapani then “placed him in a chokehold” and pulled him “to the ground," according to the lawsuit.
The child was dragged on the ground while still in the chokehold, the suit said, causing him to be “fearful for his life."
Trapani could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana and the Tulane Law School’s Civil Rights and Federal Practice Clinic are representing the child’s parents.
The child is identified as Black in both the lawsuit and a statement by the ACLU of Louisiana.
The organization said school personnel called 911 instead of helping calm the boy, who had just been bullied and was upset about it. The situation continued to spiral once sheriff’s deputies arrived, the group said.
After the child was pit in a chokehold and handcuffed, the ACLU said, he was interrogated in “handcuffs for over an hour." His relatives were not allowed to be with him, the ACLU said.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a ban on excessive use of physical restraints and handcuffing students with disabilities.
It said that after the interrogation, the boy was taken to a juvenile detention center and charged with two counts of battery of a police officer, one count of resisting arrest, one count of battery of a schoolteacher and one count of simple criminal damage of less than $1,000.
All charges were dismissed, the suit said.