8-year-old boy with disabilities assaulted and pinned facedown by Wyoming school officer, lawsuit says

An 8-year-old boy with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder was pinned facedown on the ground and told “I should be taking you to jail!” by a school resource officer at his Wyoming elementary school, leaving him bleeding on the face and traumatized, a new federal lawsuit claims.

The second grade boy, who was identified by the initials J.D., did nothing to provoke the use of force, says the complaint, which was filed Nov. 27 in U.S. District Court for Wyoming.

The incident unfolded on Feb. 15, 2022, at Freedom Elementary School, at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, where J.D.’s father was serving.

The suit was filed against Deputy Benjamin Jacquot and his employer, the Laramie County Sheriff’s Office. It claims the department and the officer violated the boy’s rights and a state policy against using prone-position restraints in schools.

After the incident, Jacquot allegedly deleted parts of the assault from his body camera and pulled the boy’s private school records but was never disciplined by his department, the complaint contends.

The incident at Freedom Elementary School on Feb. 15, 2022.
The incident at Freedom Elementary School on Feb. 15, 2022.Laramie Sheriff’s Office

The alleged assault

On Feb. 15, 2022, J.D., who was diagnosed with a neurodivergent disability, went to the school principal’s office for his lunch recess — something he had been doing for the previous four days as part of his individualized education plan, or IEP, and his behavior plan, the complaint says.

An IEP is a program in public schools to give students with disabilities specialized instruction and services.

His teacher and the principal spoke with J.D. about comments he had made to the adult cashier in the lunchroom and whether he should apologize, the suit contends.

Jacquot’s bodycam captured the first five minutes of their talk, showing a “calm, peaceful and appropriate interaction” among J.D., his principal and his teacher.

Then the video appeared to have been deleted. The principal, Chad Delbridge, described the assault, which appeared to have been deleted from the video, in a written report.

When J.D. stood up and began walking away from the principal to return to class, Jacquot “grabbed J.D. by the arm,” the suit says, citing Delbridge’s account.

Jacquot then allegedly “forcibly wrestled J.D. into a nearby conference room using an armlock,” repeatedly slammed J.D. facedown onto the floor and climbed on top of the 68-pound boy to pin him facedown. The boy was coughing and struggling to breathe, the complaint says.

When Jacquot’s bodycam video picked back up, it showed J.D. pinned underneath him as the child screamed and cried and was seen with blood on his face.

In the video, J.D. repeatedly said, “I give up,” and in response the deputy screamed: “No, its all me! Do you understand me! I should be taking you to jail!” the complaint claims.

The suit says the principal and the teacher never asked the deputy to get involved.

The Wyoming Administrative Code bans the use of the prone restraint position in schools. Grabbing a child by the arm is also a violation of Wyoming public school policy. 

‘As a law enforcement officer, that’s my primary function’

The principal called J.D.’s father, Ishmael DeJesus, to pick him up after the incident.

When DeJesus asked the deputy why he put his hands on J.D. when he wasn’t harming anyone, Jacquot allegedly responded, “Because, as a law enforcement officer, that’s my primary function,” the filing says.

However, before the assault, Jacquot knew J.D. had a neurodivergent disability and also knew about his IEP, which stated that he needed de-escalation, patience and waiting when it came to potential problems, it says.

After the incident, Jacquot went to his car and deleted parts of his bodycam video that showed the “most violent portion of the assault,” the complaint claims. He also accessed J.D.’s school records after the incident and put excerpts of his private and protected school records into his incident report for the sheriff’s office, it says.

In May, the Laramie County School District superintendent told J.D.’s mother that Jacquot had no need to access the records and that his access was henceforth restricted, the complaint said.

The suit claims that neither the bodycam video nor the post-incident report provides any explanation of behavior by J.D. that would have warranted use of force.

Under the Laramie County Sheriff’s Office use-of-force policy, force is permitted only when necessary to control detained or arrested people and to protect them or others from harm. The suit says that at no point was J.D. suspected of committing a crime or posing a danger to others.

Despite his use of force, the sheriff’s department didn’t discipline or retrain Jacquot, the complaint says. Laramie County told J.D.’s mother the sheriff’s office believed Jacquot’s actions were “appropriate and justified,” the complaint says.

Jacquot and the sheriff’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

J.D. moves states and has ongoing psychological care

Laramie County School District 1 told NBC News that Jacquot is no longer a school resource officer in any of its schools.

“The Laramie County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for the employment/assignments of their deputies. We recently became aware of the lawsuit and have no further comment at this time,” community relations director Mary Quast said. 

J.D. hasn’t been the same since the alleged assault, the lawsuit contends.

After the ordeal, his mother took him to a local medical facility for treatment of his physical injuries. 

Since then, the Air Force has moved J.D.’s family to a base in a different state. J.D. now attends a school for children with emotional disturbances, and he continues to undergo psychiatric and psychological treatment. 

“J.D. has developed a fear and mistrust of law enforcement as a result of the assault; and J.D.’s psychological injuries from the assault, at this time, appears be permanent,” the complaint says.  

The lawsuit is based on counts of unreasonable seizure and excessive force in violation of the Fourth and 14th Amendments, disability-based discrimination and violations of the Rehabilitation Act, which forbids programs that receive federal financial assistance — including the sheriff’s office — to discriminate against people with disabilities.

It seeks compensatory damages and a trial by jury.

Matthew Haltzman, an attorney for the DeJesus family, told NBC News on Tuesday, “The child’s family is still putting the pieces of their son’s life together almost two years after the event.”

“A part of that rebuilding and healing process is going to require Deputy Jacquot and his department to take accountability for what they did to this child, his parents and the community at large,” he said.