Officer accused of handcuffing autistic child is sued in federal court

A former school resource officer and the city of Southlake is being sued by the parents of an autistic child. They claim his civil rights were violated when the officer handcuffed the child.
A former school resource officer and the city of Southlake is being sued by the parents of an autistic child. They claim his civil rights were violated when the officer handcuffed the child. Star-Telegram archives

The city of Southlake and a former school resource officer accused of handcuffing and traumatizing an 8-year-old boy with autism are being sued by the child’s parents, who claim that the boy’s civil rights were violated.

The lawsuit was filed in January by Chad and Martha Wilson, the child’s parents. The suit is listed on the Southlake City Council agenda as a pending lawsuit.

Randy Baker, who supervised the school resource officers in the Carroll school district, is accused of handcuffing the boy after the child was observed screaming, shouting obscenities, overturning chairs, threatening to kill the principal, and hitting and kicking the principal as she tried to calm him down, according to a police report narrative in court documents.

A spokeswoman for the city said Baker was called to Carroll Elementary School on Jan. 23, 2014, to help defuse the situation.

Baker was fired after a police investigation, according to court documents.

After handcuffing the child, Baker sat in a chair directly across from him and engaged in a yelling match with him, according to the lawsuit, which was filed as a Civil Rights: Americans with Disabilities matter. The lawsuit claims that Baker did not ask school staff whether the student had special needs and did not use crisis prevention intervention strategies.

The parents are seeking compensatory damages for past and future emotional anguish.

The city is named in the lawsuit because it provides school resource officers to the Carroll school district.

The Wilsons’ attorney, Martin Cirkiel, said “the complaint speaks for itself.”

“The lawsuit is not just about this kid, but brought on behalf of other children like him,” Cirkiel said. “Unfortunately it’s a big deal, the big picture.”

According to the lawsuit, “Baker was heard very loudly screaming at [the child] and interacting with him in an aggressive manner. … His interaction with the student, his mannerisms and the language he used were inappropriate and unprofessional, especially considering the age and mindset of the child.”

The couple contends that the city failed “to have policies, procedures, practices and customs in place to protect [the child] from the very same professional staff who were intended to keep him safe,” and “failure to sufficiently train staff in addressing the needs of a student with a disability.”

According to the city’s website, school resource officers are experienced police officers who receive specialized training in autism awareness, juvenile law, sexual assault and family violence, and active shooter training.

Police conducted an internal investigation after the incident and then-Southlake Police Chief Stephen Mylett notified Baker on Feb. 7, 2014, that the investigation concluded Baker had “engaged in unprofessional and unreasonable conduct while interacting with [the child],” and “termed Sergeant Baker’s behavior as ‘inexcusable.’ 

The document states in a memorandum dated Feb. 10, 2014, that Mylett advised Baker that he was terminated effective immediately because of the incident.

William Krueger, attorney for Baker and Southlake, declined to comment on the case.

Morgan Craven, director of Texas Appleseed’s School to Prison Pipeline project, said it’s imperative that student behavior is handled appropriately, especially when there isn’t a threat to the school.

“Handcuffing an 8-year-old is completely inappropriate,” Craven said. “Schools need to have something else in place, especially when the disabilities are contributing to the cause of their behavior.”

Susan McFarland: 817-390-7984, @susanmcfarland1