Excessive Police Force...in the Classroom?

School Discipline

The video of a law enforcement officer dumping a student out of her seat and throwing her across the classroom floor has played and replayed on television, online and on social media for the past few days. Millions have now watched police force used to remove a student from her class. They have seen that she was not armed, she was small in stature, she made no threat, and, at most, she engaged in passive resistance for a brief moment.  The outrage over the police force used in that classroom has led many to ask: what force, if any, are police or teachers permitted to use in the classroom?

As a constitutional matter, the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit police officers (or any person acting under color of state law) from using excessive force. A police officer may use force that is reasonably necessary under the circumstances to make a lawful arrest. One corollary to that rule is that any use of force in arresting a person without probable cause is excessive. Seee.gGlenn-Robinson v. Acker, 538 S.E.2d 601, 613 (N.C. Ct. App. 2000).

Under our law, whether a police officer’s use of force is “reasonably necessary” must be judged objectively, from the perspective of a reasonable officer under the same circumstances. Typically, relevant circumstances are the severity of the crime for which probable cause exists, whether the person being seized posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officer or others, and whether the person being seized was actively resisting arrest, attempting to flee, or merely offering passive resistance. Seee.g., Graham v. Conner,  490 U.S. 396, 395-397 (1989).

Under that standard, whether excessive force was used in the Columbia South Carolina classroom does not appear to be a close question. But, you be the judge:


Was the force used on that young woman “reasonably necessary”? Perhaps a better question is: To what extent is it appropriate to have a police presence inside the classroom at all?

Recent Results: Ekstrand & Ekstrand just last month won an excessive force verdict against a City of Durham police officer.  If you believe you have been subjected to excessive police force or if you have questions about the force being used against your child in a classroom, contact us for a consultation.