Law & Courts

New Court Ruling Allows Former School Resource Officer to Be Sued for Excessive Force

By Mark Walsh — August 25, 2022 3 min read
A school resource officer in Anderson, Calif., walks a middle school student back to class on Dec. 9, 2013.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A civil lawsuit against a school resource officer who threw a 13-year-old student to the floor after a minor disciplinary incident has been revived by a federal appeals court—a rare denial of qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that often shields police from being sued over accusations of misconduct.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, voted 2-1 to revive a civil claim for excessive force on behalf of the 7th grader at a Kissimmee, Fla., middle school. The SRO at Kissimmee Middle School in the Osceola County school district, was Mario J. Badia, who pleaded guilty to a charge of battery after the incident.

The 11th Circuit’s Aug. 22 decision in Richmond v. Badia was a relatively rare denial of qualified immunity to a school resource officer. Courts grant qualified immunity to certain government officials, including police officers, school resource officers, and educators, as long as their challenged conduct does not violate “clearly established” statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. As Education Week has reported, the issue has gained attention in recent years amid high-profile cases of police use of force and because of critiques from U.S. Supreme Court justices and scholars.

What happened between the SRO and student

The 2015 Florida incident involves a student who had arrived at school late one morning with his mother, and they went to the school office to check in, court papers say. The student was wearing a hoodie to conceal a haircut he didn’t like, and his mother told him to remove it because hoodies violated the school dress code. The student appeared to push his mother in response, and a front-desk assistant radioed for the resource officer.

Badia confronted the student, cursing at him and pointing his finger, court papers say. When the student would not look Badia in the eye, the SRO grabbed the student by the face. The student reacted by trying to block Badia’s arm and stepping back, and the SRO then shoved the student in the chest and used an “armbar” technique to lift him off the ground, twist him around, and slam him to the ground.

Badia released the student after about three minutes. The officer was fired and he pleaded guilty to a charge of battery. He reportedly was sentenced to probation.

The student sued Badia on claims of false arrest and excessive force. A federal district court held that Badia was entitled to qualified immunity.

See also

Greeley Police Officer Steve Brown stands in the hallway during passing periods at Northridge High School in Greeley, Colo. on Oct. 21, 2016. While school resource officers, like Brown, are expected to handle responsibilities like any police officer they're faced with unique challenges working day-to-day in schools
Greeley Police Officer Steve Brown stands in the hallway during passing periods at Northridge High School in Greeley, Colo. While school resource officers, like Brown, are expected to handle responsibilities like any police officer, they're faced with unique challenges working day-to-day in schools.
Joshua Polson/The Greeley Tribune/AP
School Climate & Safety Explainer School Resource Officers (SROs), Explained
Stephen Sawchuk, November 16, 2021
13 min read

In the new decision, the 11th Circuit court panel reversed the district court on the excessive-force claim, though not on the false arrest claim.

“We conclude that Badia used excessive force under the Fourth Amendment for three reasons,” Judge Andrew L. Brasher wrote for the majority.

First, the officer had no law-enforcement justification for grabbing the student’s face and slamming him to the ground, the court said, adding that a video of the incident undermined the officer’s claim that the student had been “explosive” and “aggressive.” Second, the student’s potential crime of battery on his mother was at most a misdemeanor, and the student did not pose a threat or attempt to flee the officer, the majority said, and third, the student did not disobey any lawful commands from the officer.

The student “remained passive throughout the entire encounter, never attempted to flee, never refused any lawful commands, and did not pose a threat to Badia or others,” the court said.

Brasher said it was well-established that an officer violates the Fourth Amendment if he or she uses gratuitous or excessive force on a suspect who is under control, is not resisting, and is obeying commands. Thus, Badia did not merit qualified immunity, the court said.

Writing in dissent, Judge Elizabeth L. Branch said Badia’s grabbing of the student’s face was “unnecessary” and “even degrading,” but it was a “de minimis” use of force that did not violate the Constitution.

She characterized the student as having “slapped away” the officer’s arm. The student’s “resistance allowed Badia to escalate his use of force against him,” Branch said.

“The force used against [the student] during the execution of a lawful investigation into a potential crime both before and after he hit Officer Badia’s hand away was minor, not egregious,” the dissenting judge said.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
Strategies for Incorporating SEL into Curriculum
Empower students to thrive. Learn how to integrate powerful social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies into the classroom.
Content provided by Be GLAD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Supreme Court Case on Transgender Youth Medical Care May Impact Schools
The justices will decide whether a Tennessee law that bars certain treatments for transgender minors violates the equal-protection clause.
5 min read
FILE - The Supreme Court is seen under stormy skies in Washington, June 20, 2019. In the coming days, the Supreme Court will confront a perfect storm mostly of its own making, a trio of decisions stemming directly from the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up a case about a state law that bars certain medical care for transgender minors, with the legal issues holding potential implications for schools.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Law & Courts Why the $4.5 Billion School E-Rate Program Is Headed to the Supreme Court
The justices will decide whether allegations of overcharging under the telecom-funded program may be brought under the False Claims Act.
6 min read
The Supreme Court building is seen on June 13, 2024, in Washington.
The Supreme Court building is seen on June 13, 2024, in Washington.
Mark Schiefelbein/AP
Law & Courts Title IX Rule to Protect LGBTQ+ Students Temporarily Blocked in 4 States
A federal judge in Louisiana delivered the first legal blow to the Biden administration's interpretation of Title IX.
4 min read
Demonstrators advocating for transgender rights and healthcare stand outside of the Ohio Statehouse on Jan. 24, 2024, in Columbus, Ohio. Republican states are filing a barrage of legal challenges against the Biden administration's newly expanded campus sexual assault rules, saying they overstep the president's authority and undermine the Title IX anti-discrimination law.
Demonstrators advocating for transgender rights and health care stand outside of the Ohio Statehouse on Jan. 24, 2024, in Columbus, Ohio. Republican states have filed a barrage of legal challenges against the Biden administration's new Title IX rule, and one of them has just resulted in a temporary order blocking the rule in four states.
Patrick Orsagos/AP
Law & Courts Judge Strikes Down Title IX Guidance on LGBTQ+ Students. Here's Why It Matters
In a June 11 ruling, Texas judge said the Education Department has no authority to expand protections under Title IX.
8 min read
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a news conference in Dallas on June 22, 2017.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a news conference in Dallas on June 22, 2017. His office sued the Biden administration in an attempt to invalidate guidance it released in June 2021 stating it would interpret Title IX to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Tony Gutierrez/AP