Federal Judge: Police Pepper-Spraying Birmingham Students for Discipline Is Unconstitutional

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Between 2006 and 2011, police officers patrolling Birmingham City Schools pepper-sprayed students more than a hundred times. But late Thursday, months after a trial that concluded in February, U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon ruled the practice unconstitutional.

Although the ruling says chemical sprays are sometimes warranted, hence the lack of a total ban, the judge called using them in typical school-discipline scenarios “profoundly disturbing.” He ordered the Birmingham Police Department to drastically improve spray-weapons training for school resource officers. That would include, among other things, decontamination protocols and having changes of clothes available for students who’ve been sprayed.

The judge also awarded six of the eight unnamed plaintiffs a total of $40,000 for officers’ use of “excessive force,” for failure to decontaminate sprayed students, or for — in two cases — both.

During a media call organized by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the lawsuit in 2010, a plaintiff and former Birmingham high school student identified as B.D. said, “Today we’re just happy that there won’t be any more of what we went through. It’s good to know children can finally go to school and feel safe.”

Police lawyers are not commenting except to say they “respectfully disagree ” with the ruling and that “all legal options are on the table.”

To view the 120-page ruling, click here. To listen to the October 1 SPLC media call, which includes thoughts from the case’s lead attorney, plaintiff B.D., and B.D.’s mother, click below.