Parents call out school district and city, after son is handcuffed at school

Posted at 1:33 PM, Mar 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-16 14:47:22-04

A Belton ISD parent says she’s tired of the school district and the city of Temple playing the “blame game,” after her eight-year-old son was put in handcuffs on campus.

This comes as the two entities are currently locked in a battle over rights to body cam footage which captured the February 16th incident.

It’s an event that’s still hard for the boy’s mother, Lisa Caruso, to wrap her head around.

“I still can't comprehend what I was seeing, I still can’t,” Caruso said, “I cannot get it to make sense no matter how hard I try."

This all started after her son, Ethan, had an emotional outburst at Pirtle elementary school. Ethan has ADHD and when employees couldn’t get him to calm down, they called Temple police.

After briefly attempting to calm Ethan down, with the help of two Belton ISD employees, the responding Temple police officer decided to put the child in handcuffs. In the body cam video, you can hear Ethan crying and struggling as those cuffs are placed on him.

It’s a move that Belton ISD officials have since condemned, saying that calling police to deal with an “unruly child” isn’t a part of their approved protocols. District leaders have also criticized the police officers’ actions, and said the following in a preliminary report:

[We] have not seen anything to explain why it was necessary, in this situation, for the City of Temple’s police officer to handcuff an eight-year-old.

In fact, the National Association of School Resource Officers' position statement on police involvement in school discipline states that "an SRO should need to use a physical restraint device (e.g. handcuffs or flex cuffs) only in a case that requires the physical arrest of a student for referral to the criminal justice system."

This was not such a case. After all, in Texas, an eight-year-old cannot be charged with a crime.

Officials with Belton ISD have requested an original copy of the video from the city of Temple—stating that it is vital to their internal investigation of the incident. But, city officials are temporarily withholding that footage.

City of Temple Attorney, Kayla Landeros, says leaders are concerned about a gray area in within the Public Information Act. She says it could leave them open to criminal penalties if they release that video to the school district, without the approval of the Texas Attorney General.

“For a majority of the information we have, we just can’t decide on our own to withhold it,” Landeros said, “We have to ask the Attorney General for permission."

Landeros adds that the city will gladly release the footage to district leaders, if instructed to do so by the Texas Attorney General.

The city formally requested an opinion from the Attorney General’s office on February 19th, but as of March 14th, they haven’t gotten a response. The Attorney General’s office has a total of 45 days to address these types of requests.

As far as the two entities are concerned, Lisa Caruso says she just wants both parties to step up and take responsibility for what happened to her son.

“As far as them fighting, yeah he [the officer] pulled out the handcuffs,” Caruso said, “[But] there were two other adults that worked for the school in the room and nobody said stop."

The preliminary report from Belton ISD also states that the incident hasn't impacted Ethan academically.

But Caruso says the damage that's been done, goes way beyond the classroom.

"He just doesn't want anyone disappointed in him, he doesn’t want anyone yelling at him or anything,” Caruso said, “So, he’s just doing everything he is supposed to, but he’s not having fun, he's not being a kid anymore."

The Caruso's have filed a formal grievance, asking for Belton ISD staff members and Temple police officers to receive training on how to properly deal with students that have special needs.

The family is expecting a response by next week, but regardless of the resulting decision, Lisa Caruso says they won’t stop fighting for justice.

“We can’t change what happened to Ethan,” Caruso said, “but we can stop it from happening again, to someone else.”

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