U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit Rules That Handcuffing a Seven Year Old Boy for Twenty Minutes did not Violate His Constitutional Rights

On Monday, August 1, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that KWP, a seven year old boy attending the Kansas City Public Schools system, did not have his constitutional rights violated by Officer Brandon Craddock or the school’s principal, Anne Wallace, when KWP was handcuffed for twenty minutes by the officer on school grounds. The Court further ruled that both the officer and principal met the requirements for qualified immunity on KWP’s claims of unreasonable seizure and excessive force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 

In its analysis of whether Craddock and Wallace met the requirements for qualified immunity, the Eighth Circuit first addressed the question of whether or not Craddock and Wallace violated KWP’s constitutional rights. The Eighth Circuit did not make a definitive choice between the reasonableness standard found in New Jersey v. T.L.O, 469 U.S. 325 (1985), and the objective reasonableness standard provided in Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989). Rather, the Court held that, under either test, Craddock and Wallace did not violate KWP’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and excessive force. The Court distinguished between KWP’s case and other child restraint cases by using KWP’s own admissions that he attempted to flee and did not wish to be restrained by Craddock. The Court also held that the 15 minutes during which KWP was handcuffed in the school’s office was reasonable in light of KWP’s earlier resistance. Because Wallace had past experience in needing to restrain KWP, the Court held that Wallace acted reasonably under the circumstances by not intervening in Craddock’s handcuffing of KWP.

The Eighth Circuit continued on in an analysis of whether, even if Craddock and Wallace acted unreasonably, KWP could “‘show that a reasonable [official] would have been on notice that [their] conduct violated a clearly established right.'” Cravener v. Shuster, 885 F.3d 1135, 1140 (8th Cir. 2018) (quoting De Boise v. Taser Int’l, Inc., 760 F.3d 892, 896 (8th Cir. 2014)). KWP relied on cases in the Ninth Circuit and Eleventh Circuit to bolster his argument, but the Ninth Circuit case was decided after the events of KWP’s case. The Eighth Circuit further distinguished the Ninth Circuit and Eleventh Circuit cases from KWP’s own case because KWP was not compliant with Craddock’s orders and, instead, actively resisted attempts at restraint.

Because the Eighth Circuit found that Craddock and Wallace did not violate KWP’s constitutional rights, there could not exist any municipal liability. The Court reversed the district court’s denial of summary judgment and remanded the case for entry of summary judgment in favor of Craddock and Wallace.

Additional Reading

Handcuffing of second grader didn’t violate his constitutional rights, 8th Circuit says, ABA Journal (August 5, 2019)

K.W.P. v. Kansas City Public Schools, No. 17-3602 (8th Cir. 2019)