ACLU: Former Narragansett High School student receives $75K settlement over ‘unlawful’ arrest

THE AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES Union of Rhode Island announced that former Narragansett High School student Michael Blanchette was awarded a $75,000 settlement from the school district over a lawsuit alleging an unlawful arrest by a student resource officer.
THE AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES Union of Rhode Island announced that former Narragansett High School student Michael Blanchette was awarded a $75,000 settlement from the school district over a lawsuit alleging an unlawful arrest by a student resource officer.

PROVIDENCE – The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island Inc. announced Monday that a three-year legal battle in federal court over an alleged unlawful arrest of a Narragansett High School student has resulted in the former student receiving a settlement with the Narragansett School District totaling several thousand dollars.

The ACLU says Michael Blanchette has been awarded a $75,000 settlement from the school district, which it did not in court admit liability. The ACLU says it filed a lawsuit in May 2020 with federal court on behalf of Blanchette, who was then an 11th-grader at Narragansett High School with special needs. Blanchette in a surveillance video was seen being thrown to the ground by on-duty student resource officer Kyle Rooney.

The video, which has no audio, shows Blanchette being approached and addressed by Rooney. The ACLU says Rooney confronted Blanchette about whether he was allowed to be walking in the school hallway, where Blanchette said he had such permission.

In that discussion, Rooney “forcefully slammed to the floor and restrained” Blanchette before removing him handcuffed, the ACLU said. Before Rooney brought Blanchette to the ground, Blanchette in the video was seen giving Rooney an obscene hand gesture.

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Rooney, according to the ACLU, in the arrest report that charged Blanchette with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, initially claimed Blanchette “aggressively took a step” toward the officer. The ACLU sued the district, arguing that Rooney violated Blanchette’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, retaliated against Blanchette in violation of the First Amendment, and unlawfully assaulted and filed unfounded criminal charges against him, the nonprofit said.

“We are very pleased that Michael has received monetary payment for the disturbing action taken against him,” ACLU of Rhode Island Executive Director Steven Brown said in a statement. “But his case only highlights the serious issues with the presence of police officers in schools, who all too often can turn minor disciplinary matters into criminal ones.”

The ACLU also said it has a separate lawsuit with the Pawtucket School Department over another alleged incident involving a student resource officer and a teenaged student.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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