By Marlene Lenthang - NBC News
An 8-year-old boy with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) was allegedly pinned face down on the ground by a school resource officer, who told him, "I should take you to jail," at a Wyoming elementary school.
The incident left the boy bleeding from his face and traumatized, according to a new federal lawsuit.
The second-grader, identified by the initials J.D., did nothing to provoke the use of force, according to the lawsuit filed Nov. 27 in the U.S. District of Wyoming.
The incident occurred on Feb. 15, 2022, at Freedom Elementary School, located at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, where J.D.'s father served.
The lawsuit was filed against Sheriff's Office Deputy Benjamin Jacquot and his employer, the Laramie County Sheriff's Office. The document alleges that the department and the officer violated children's rights and a state policy against the use of restraints in schools.
After the incident, Jacquot allegedly deleted portions of the assault recorded by his body camera and accessed the boy's records at the private school, but he was never disciplined by his department, the lawsuit said.
The incident at Freedom Elementary School on Feb. 15, 2022.Laramie Sheriff's Office
The Alleged Assault
On February 15, 2022, J.D., who was diagnosed with a neurodivergent disability, went to the school principal's office for his lunch recess, something he had been doing for the past four days as part of his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and behavior plan, explained the complaint.
An IEP is a public school program to provide students with disabilities with specialized instruction and services.
His teacher and principal spoke with J.D. about comments he had made to a cashier in the school cafeteria and whether he should apologize, the lawsuit said.
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The officer's body camera captured the first five minutes of the conversation, which shows a "calm, peaceful, and appropriate interaction" between J.D., the principal, and his teacher.
Afterwards, the recording appears to have been deleted. The school's principal, Chad Delbridge, described the assault, which was redacted from the recording, in a written report.
When J.D. got up and began to walk away from the principal to go back to class, Assistant Jacquot "grabbed J.D. by the arm," the lawsuit said, citing Delbridge's account.
Jacquot then allegedly "wrestled with J.D. in a conference room, used an arm lock," repeatedly slammed J.D. face down to the ground, and climbed on top of the 68-pound boy to pin him down. The lawsuit said the boy was coughing and struggling to breathe.
When Jacquot's body camera footage resurfaced, it showed J.D. pinned underneath him as the boy screams and cries and has blood on his face.
In the recording, J.D. repeatedly says "I give up" and the cop yells back, "No, I'm in charge! Do you understand me? I should take you to jail."
According to the lawsuit, neither the principal nor the teacher asked for the police officer to intervene at any time.
The Wyoming Administrative Code prohibits the use of prone restraint in schools. Grabbing a child by the arm is also a violation of Wyoming Public Schools policy.
"That's my role as a police officer."
The principal called J.D.'s father, Ismael DeJesus, to pick him up after the incident.
When DeJesus asked the officer why he had put his hands on J.D. when he wasn't hurting anyone, Jacquot allegedly replied, "Because, as a law enforcement officer, that's my primary role," the lawsuit said.
However, prior to the assault, Jacquot knew that J.D. had a neurodivergent disability and also knew from his IEP that it was necessary to swallow to calm the situation, be patient and wait for potential problems.
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After the incident, Jacquot allegedly went to his car and deleted portions of his body camera footage, which showed the "most violent part of the assault," the lawsuit said. He also accessed J.D.'s school records after the incident, and put excerpts from his private and protected school records in his report about the incident to the sheriff's office.
In May, the superintendent of the Laramie County School District told J.D.'s mother that Jacquot had no need to access those records and that his access had therefore been restricted.
The lawsuit claims that neither the body camera footage nor the report after the incident provides an explanation for J.D.'s behavior that would have justified the use of force.
According to the Laramie County Sheriff's Office's use-of-force policy, force is only permitted when necessary to control a detained or arrested person and to protect law enforcement officers or others from harm. According to the lawsuit, at no time was there a suspicion that J.D. had committed a crime or posed a danger to others.
Despite his use of force, Jacquot was not disciplined or trained by the Laramie County Sheriff's Department, the lawsuit said. Laramie County told J.D.'s mother that the sheriff's office believed Jacquot's actions had been "appropriate and justified," the lawsuit clarified.
NBC News has reached out to Jacquot and the sheriff's office for comment.
J.D. has moved and is receiving psychological care
Laramie County School District 1 told NBC News that Jacquot no longer works as a school resource officer at any of its schools.
"The Laramie County Sheriff's Office is responsible for the hiring and assignment of its deputies. We have recently become aware of the lawsuit and have no further comment at this time," said Mary Quast, Director of Community Relations.
According to the lawsuit, J.D. has not been the same since the alleged assault.
After the ordeal, his mother took him to a local medical center to be treated for his physical injuries.
Since the Air Force moved J.D.'s family to a base in another state, J.D. now attends a school for emotionally disturbed children and continues to receive psychiatric and psychological treatment.
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"J.D. has developed fear and distrust of police forces as a result of the assault; and J.D.'s psychological injuries from the assault, at this time, appear to be permanent," the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit is based on charges of unreasonable garnishment and excessive use of force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, disability discrimination, and violation of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits programs — including the sheriff's office — that receive federal financial aid from discriminating against people with disabilities.
Seek damages and a jury trial.
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Matthew Haltzman, an attorney for the DeJesus family, told NBC News on Tuesday, "The boy's family is still trying to put their son's life back together nearly two years after the event."
"A part of that rebuilding and healing process is going to require Officer Jacquot and his department to take responsibility for what they did to this child, to his parents and to the community at large."