Wednesday, September 25, 2013
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently rejected Birmingham police officers’ claims of qualified immunity in a lawsuit challenging the use of chemical sprays on high school students. The circuit court’s ruling on Friday comes on the heels of another incident the week before when a crowd of students were doused with pepper spray at Birmingham’s Jackson-Olin High School by police officers responding to a fight. In the 11th Circuit case, Birmingham’s police chief argued that he was not liable in his official capacity and that his school resource officers (SROs) were entitled to qualified immunity and summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ claims. The circuit court upheld the district court’s denial of summary judgment and dismissed the officers’ state-law claims for lack of appellate jurisdiction. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed the federal class action lawsuit on behalf of 100 Birmingham high school students who had been sprayed with mace by city police officers acting as SROs. The suit alleges that police officers used chemical spray on students in violation of the students’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights against excessive force. The SPLC advocates that schools end the practice, which it says exposes students to blistering and scarring of the eyes, chemical burns, and asthma attacks. The district court below noted that “[a]lthough SROs are trained professionals who make an effort to restrict the chemical spray to the specific student in question, chemical spray is nonetheless an aerosol that knows no boundaries and makes no distinction between misbehaving and compliant students.” Read the opinion in J.W., et al. v. A.C. Roper, Chief of the Birmingham Police Department, et al. here.