McCadden v. City of Flint
What's at Stake
The ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan filed a lawsuit against the Flint Police Department and the Flint Chamber of Commerce on behalf of Cameron McCadden, a child with disabilities who was handcuffed by a school resource officer (SRO) when he was seven years old. Cameron, who is black, has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
While attending an afterschool program in October 2015, Cameron experienced some behavioral challenges related to his disability, reportedly kicking a supply cart and running around the bleachers. The afterschool staff requested assistance from an SRO from the Flint Police Department. A Flint PD officer responded, handcuffing Cameron—less than four feet tall and weighing 55 pounds—behind his back. Cameron’s mother arrived at the school minutes later and demanded that the officer remove the handcuffs. The officer responded that the key was in a lockbox and he was waiting for a police cruiser to bring it to the school. Cameron remained locked with handcuffs behind his back for nearly an hour in the lobby of the building, in full view of other students, parents and after-school personnel.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, students with disabilities are only 12 percent of public-school students, but account for 75 percent of students subjected to physical restraint in schools. Black students represent 19 percent of students with disabilities, but account for 36 percent of these students who are subjected to mechanical restraint such as handcuffs.
Since 2014, the Flint Police Department has doubled the number of officers in public schools. However, the department has not designed or implemented policies, procedures or training on how to work with children, how to de-escalate conflict, and how to avoid the use of force against students like Cameron.
Update: On April 12, 2019, a federal judge in Michigan handed down a victory for the ACLU and students’ rights, denying the City of Flint’s motion to dismiss the case. In doing so, the federal court recognized the high numbers of disabled students disproportionately targeted by school policing – as it found that the plaintiffs had “sufficiently alleged that the City has failed to train its police officers on appropriately interacting with juveniles who statistically, based on existing data and studies, may have a disability that would dictate how an officer – particularly a School Resource Officer – should interact with such a juvenile.”
The court found that there were sufficient allegations that the City of Flint “was deliberately indifferent to a highly predictable consequence regarding juveniles.” This decision highlights the need for Flint and other cities to appropriately consider how students with disabilities are overrepresented in their policing work and being funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline.