9-Year-Old Black Student Forcibly Handcuffed in Walpole

Police Accountability

In a case highlighting the growing problem of over-policing Black schoolchildren, Lawyers for Civil Rights and Anderson Kreiger LLP today sent demand letters to Walpole Public Schools and the Walpole Police Department demanding change stemming from an incident where police officers handcuffed a 9-year-old Black special needs student at school, then transported him to a local hospital and held him in adult protective custody. 

The student is a third grader in the Walpole Public Schools (WPS), who has an individualized education plan (IEP) based on attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and delayed intelligence. On January 12, 2023, he became dysregulated while in his elementary school class. Disregarding the clear instructions in his IEP that prescribed positive reinforcement for regulating his behavior, school staff instead called the school resource officer, who in turn requested backup from the Walpole Police Department (WPD). Two additional police officers arrived at the school and forcibly handcuffed the 9-year-old boy. They restrained the boy’s arms and legs and transported him to the hospital, where he was held in adult protective custody – unable to communicate with his mother until he was discharged. 

“The actions taken by Walpole Public Schools and the Walpole Police Department against this 9-year-old boy were egregious, age-inappropriate, and directly contradicted the school’s own guidance for regulating his behavior,” said Erika Richmond, an attorney with Lawyers for Civil Rights. She said the incident exemplifies the “adultification” of Black children, a form of discrimination where Black children are perceived and treated as older than they are, with WPS staff frequently describing the child as “big for his age” and “stronger than he looks.”  “Because of this bias, a situation that could easily have been de-escalated instead led to a young Black boy being handcuffed and held in adult custody,” Attorney Richmond added. “It was an egregious departure from procedure and basic decency, evidencing either a complete lack of training for this scenario, or worse, willful neglect. It cannot happen again,” said Matthew Bowser, an Associate Attorney with Anderson Kreiger LLP.

Today’s letters demand wide-ranging reforms by both WPS and WPD and an apology to the affected family. At this time, the family continues to explore all legal options for holding WPS and WPD accountable.