Family files federal lawsuit, claims first grader was handcuffed and assaulted in class

PITTSBURGH — A family filed a federal lawsuit against Pittsburgh Public Schools after they said their first grader was handcuffed and assaulted in class.

"I'm angry, I'm not surprised," said Fela Turner. "I'm just mad it happened to someone in my family.”

Turner's 7-year old grandson was handcuffed by a Pittsburgh school police officer at Liberty Elementary in Shadyside after throwing a tantrum in class.

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Court documents said he reportedly "destroyed school property, threw objects, pushed staff members and failed to follow directives."

Turner and his daughter have filed a federal lawsuit accusing the district of civil rights violations and excessive force.

"You are supposed to be able to go to school and be supported," said Turner. "You are not supposed to go to school and be handcuffed and physically abused and locked in doors and choked."


The lawsuit also claims a teacher "placed his knee on...Back while he lay on the floor," and another time "reportedly choked" him. The suit said the principal, "physically prevented...From leaving a small room."

Turner said his grandson told him that happened on multiple occasions. But Turner said school administrators never mentioned that.

"They are permanent things you are writing in his book that are not true," said Turner. "What the truth is that he tore up a classroom because you locked the door."

Turner said his grandson began having behavioral problems in kindergarten but didn't get the help he needed. He was ultimately diagnosed with attention defect hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiance disorder (ODD).

The lawsuit claims the district failed to provide any recommendations regarding interventions and support that could be implemented in the school setting.

"He didn't get it and what he got was he was a problem," said Turner. "That's what he got, he got the feeling of being a problem. And the only way to get rid of a problem was to build a case.  What they never expected was me."

Turner removed his grandson from Liberty after the handcuffing incident. He's now in a private school and excelling in academics and athletics. He's ranked third in the country in his age group in javelin.

"He's highly intelligent," said Turner. "He makes straight A’s almost every report period. He does very well in the school that he's in."

"What's the difference?" asked reporter Rick Earle.

"The difference is the attention that he's getting that he didn't get," said Turner.

The district declined to comment on the allegations or the lawsuit. They have petitioned a judge to dismiss the suit.

According to Turner, the principal and the teacher are no longer with the district. Meanwhile, Turner said his goal is to prevent this from happening to another child.

"What we cannot do is just let the system physically abuse, mentally abuse and handcuff a little kid and then expect them to go on with life as if nothing happened," said Turner. "And say, ‘Oh, we made a mistake. We are sorry this happened.’ No, not this time."