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Alabama: District Court Certifies Class of HS Students Alleging Excessive Force by School Resource Officers

In August 2012, a U.S. District Court in Alabama granted a motion to certify a class of all current and future high school students in the Birmingham City Schools in a suit which alleges that Birmingham Police Department (BPD) policies regarding the use of chemical spray in school settings, as well as the training provided to School Resource Officers (SROs), are constitutionally defective and violative of the students’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights against excessive force.

The Birmingham Board of Education approved the stationing of SROs in its high schools in 1996. Over a five-year period beginning in 2006, SROs used chemical spray on approximately 100 students, purportedly to address criminal and/or breach-of-the-peace violations. Four of those students filed suit in 2010, along with two other students who, although not directly targeted, were nonetheless accidently exposed to chemical spray as a result of their proximity to incidents in which it was used by SROs.

The BPD has no specific policy regarding the use of chemical spray by SROs – BPD police officers assigned to Birmingham’s high schools. Rather, SROs are guided by BPD’s general policy regarding the use of chemical spray, a policy, the suit alleges, which is constitutionally flawed insofar as it is geared for adults rather than for students; given the unique environment of a school setting, the suit alleges, application of the policy without any modifications is tantamount to excessive force.

The court had little trouble concluding, first, that the numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy-of-representation requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 23(a) were satisfied; and, second, that the requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 23(b)(2), viz., (1) that general question of law or fact are common to the class and, (2) that the complaint seeks injunctive or declaratory relief with respect to the class as a whole, were also satisfied. See: JW v. Birmingham Board of Education, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Al.), Case No. 2:10-cv-03314-AKK; 2012 WL 3849032.

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Related legal case

JW v. Birmingham Board of Education