When Your Child Gets Hauled Out Of School By The Police, Can You Sue?

School discipline is very different today than it once was. Mass school shootings and terrorism have caused schools to crack down on student misbehavior in ways that surprise a lot of parents. Something that was once the cause of a trip to the principal's office and a couple of questions in order to clear the matter up could now send the student to jail. There are times, however, when schools or police go too far in an effort to maintain control. If your child ends up arrested for no good reason, can you sue? This is what you need to know.

Are the police free to arrest anyone?

Generally speaking, the police have a certain "limited immunity" from lawsuits over their conduct when they're acting on official business. That protects them from being sued by every person ever arrested or detained on a false tip, bad lead, or plain error.

However, that limited immunity only applies when the police officer is acting in good faith—if the police officer arrests your child in willful violation of his or her Constitutional rights, there's no immunity. Section 183 of Title 42 of the United States Code makes it unlawful for the police to abuse their authority.

What are the grounds for a lawsuit against the police?

How this applies to your student depends very much on the circumstances of the case. For example, an elementary school child was arrested over a schoolyard fight—despite another officer's objections and video evidence that showed the child wasn't in the fight and was actually pleading for others to stop. In that case, the officer is accused of false arrest and malicious prosecution.

A false arrest occurs when the police make an arrest despite a lack of good faith, or probable cause. Malicious prosecution occurs when an innocent person is targeted by police out of malice. 

While it's unclear what motivated the officer to arrest an innocent child over a fight that she wasn't even in, other situations are less ambiguous. For example, there's the case of Ahmed Mohamed, the boy who brought a homemade clock to school to show his teacher and was then arrested for a "hoax bomb." The lawsuit against both the school and the police allege that the arrest was motivated by racism and religious intolerance.

How does your child's emotional distress factor into the lawsuit?

One of the facets of any lawsuit against the police for false arrest or malicious prosecution is likely to be your child's emotional distress over the incident. While almost any child would be traumatized over being falsely accused of something and arrested, it's the lasting nature and intensity of the emotional harm that's likely to be an issue.

One of the things that you'll be asked to prove in court is that your child has continued to suffer distress over the incident. Evidence that he or she has developed regressive behavior (like bedwetting), panic attacks, anxiety, or depression will be important to your case.

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