High School SRO accused of excessive force in incident captured on video

South County

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (WPRI) ─ A former Narragansett High School student is suing one of the town’s police officers after he said he was injured in an incident captured on the school’s surveillance system in 2018, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Michael Blanchette said he was injured after he was forced to the ground by the school resource officer in the school’s hallway, according to Amato DeLuca, Blanchette’s attorney.

DeLuca said the force was used despite his client showing no threat to the officer.

Narragansett Patrolman Kyle Rooney – who is currently listed on the department’s website as a school resource officer with the Community Police Division – is being accused in the civil complaint of using excessive force and wrongfully questioning and targeting a student.

The 22-page lawsuit that also named several Narragansett town and education officials as defendants was filed in federal court Wednesday.

The document states the officer’s actions violated Blanchette’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure, the use of excessive force, and a violation of the student’s First Amendment rights to free expression. 

The school’s video system captured the moments detailed in the court documents. 

The video, which has no audio, shows Blanchette and the officer speaking to each other, but about 10 seconds into the discussion, Blanchette is seen in waving a middle finger at the officer.

Moments after two other students walk by them, Rooney uses a “take-down” method to bring Blanchette to the floor, according to the lawsuit. 

From the camera’s perspective, Blanchette and Rooney are the only ones visible as they struggle for about 30 seconds, then what appears to be another faculty member walks by, and shortly after two others appear to circle around the encounter. 

The struggle between the officer and the student continues for a few more minutes, and the student is eventually handcuffed and escorted out. 

Blanchette was 17-years old at the time of the incident. His attorney said after much consideration, his family decided to move forward with legal action when Blanchette turned 18.

DeLuca said the video was provided to the student’s mother by the school.

As a result of this incident, Blanchette was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, but those charges were dismissed last June with prejudice, meaning they are dismissed permanently.

DeLuca said they think the video shows Blanchette was singled out by the officer. 

“For some reason this police officer stops this particular boy, who apparently had a different appearance, and had a conversation about why he’s in the corridor walking,” DeLuca said. “Which [Blanchette] tells him he has permission to do.”

The attorney said the then-high school senior was a student with an individualized educational plan (IEP), which allowed him to move throughout the school during certain periods without a hall pass.

The lawsuit states the plaintiff is asking for compensation for the lost income, medical bills, mental anguish, and emotional distress the incident allegedly caused. 

DeLuca said the impacts of the coronavirus may impact the case moving forward.

“We can still do the normal discovery that we would do in a case,” DeLuca said. “The only impediment, because of the pandemic, is if it’s going to be tried in front of a jury, when that case can be tried by a jury, but we’re nowhere near ready to do that.”

Eyewitness News reached out to the superintendent of Narragansett schools, Dr. Peter Cummings, who is also listed as a defendant. Cummings said they are “not permitted by student privacy laws to discuss incidents involving students who are presently in or have graduated from the Narragansett Schools because we are legally obligated to keep that information confidential.”

“Therefore, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on any lawsuit pending in US District Court involving the Town of Narragansett or the Narragansett School System,” Cummings said in the email.

James Tierney, town manager for Narragansett, sent a similar response when asked for a comment. 

“It would be inappropriate for me to comment, further this statement, regarding any lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court involving the Town of Narragansett.” Tierney wrote.

The chief of police also declined to comment. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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