The Etiwanda School District office in Rancho Cucamonga, CA., Wednesday, October 11, 2017. (Staff photo by Jennifer Cappuccio Maher/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

By Beau Yarbrough | | Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Published: September 10, 2018 at 7:01 pm | Updated: September 11, 2018 at 2:39 pm

A San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy violated the Fourth Amendment rights of a group of Etiwanda Intermediate students when he arrested them because he thought they were uncooperative in a bullying investigation, a federal appeals court ruled Monday, Sept. 10.

“The summary arrest, handcuffing, and police transport to the station of the middle school girls was a disproportionate response to the school’s need, which was dissipation of what the school officials characterized as an ‘ongoing feud’ and ‘continuous argument’ between the students,” Judge Jacqueline H. Nguyen wrote in the opinion for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ three-judge panel.

“No reasonable officer could have reasonably believed that the law authorizes the arrest of a group of middle schoolers in order to teach them a lesson or to prove a point,” the opinion said. The case goes back to Oct. 8, 2013, when a group of seventh-grade girls, ages 12 and 13, were handcuffed, arrested and driven from the school to the police station.

Balbina Kendall, then the school’s assistant principal, had asked the school resource officer, San Bernardino County sheriff’s Deputy Luis Ortiz for help with a group of girls who had been involved in bullying and fighting at school.

The seven girls were put in a classroom together. According to Nguyen’s opinion, Ortiz intended to verify what he had been told about the incidents by school administrators, but found the girls “unresponsive and disrespectful.”

According to the court, an audio tape has some whispering and quiet giggling from some of the girls. The two girls who appear to have been the aggressors in the bullying, told Ortiz that they would not stop their behavior. But the other girls didn’t say anything until after Ortiz had started making arrests and asked if they needed to be handcuffed.

Ortiz told the girls he was arresting them because he was not “playing around” and was taking them to jail to “prove a point” and “make (them) mature a lot faster,” according to the opinion.

He did not care who was at fault, he told the girls, because it was the “same ticket, same pair of handcuffs.” According to the mother of one of the girls, Kendall said it was school policy to suspend any student involved in a fight, regardless of who was at fault.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on Tuesday, with a spokeswoman citing “continuing mediation and litigation.”

Ultimately, the school did not discipline any of the seven girls, and no criminal charges were filed.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the public from “unreasonable search or seizure” or arrest without probable cause.

“The district follows its discipline policies and the California Education Code with respect to student discipline,” Etiwanda School District Superintendent Shawn Judson wrote in a statement.

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