A Rhode Island town owes one family tens of thousands of dollars after its police department spent hours interrogating a third-grade girl.
The lawsuit against Tiverton, RI, was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island on behalf of a local family in 2015.
On Tuesday, Tiverton announced it’d settle for $40,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees.
According to the suit, two 8-year old girls were taken off a school bus by law enforcement. Another child had told a ‘bus attendant’ that the girl had chemicals in her backpack.
The bus halted, education officials from Tiverton were informed, and law enforcement was summoned.
Despite performing a search of the girl’s bag and finding no evidence of contraband, police took her – along with another 8-year old – to the local station. They initiated the lengthy interrogation without consulting either child’s parent, all while accusing them of lying about not having chemicals.
The district responded by disciplining the students who made the false reports and ‘robocalling’ elementary school parents to inform them of the incident.
The complaint filed named as defendants the town of Tiverton as well its treasurer and several law enforcement figures, claiming the detainment over false and unsubstantiated accusations were ‘blatant’ violations of the U.S. Constitution and Rhode Island law.
An ACLU attorney representing the family, Amato DeLuca, questioned the wisdom of the police’s decision at the onset of litigation.
“Who arrests third- and fourth-graders?” he asked. “That’s the problem and that’s one of the issues, because there were officials – the superintendent of the school was at the site – and they were complicit. They allowed the police to take these kids. They should have called the parents, said, ‘Look, we’re here…’ But they didn’t.”
The ACLU announced that the town agreed, as part of the settlement, to implement new protocol ‘requiring schools to notify the parents and for parents to be present when police question elementary-age children.’
“I am very pleased that we were able to reach an agreement with the Town,” said DeLuca. “The enacted protocols will provide children and their families with necessary protections against unreasonable and unwarranted searches and seizures, while also ensuring that the police department will still be able to ensure the safety of the town’s young residents.”
The executive director of the ACLU in Rhode Island, Steven Brown, also commented on the settlement.
“The ACLU is hopeful that this new protocol will prevent any other student from going through what this child endured. This case is a concrete reminder that over-policing of our schools and our students must stop,” he said.