Law & Courts

New Court Ruling Allows Former School Resource Officer to Be Sued for Excessive Force

By Mark Walsh — August 25, 2022 3 min read
A school resource officer in Anderson, Calif., walks a middle school student back to class on Dec. 9, 2013.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A civil lawsuit against a school resource officer who threw a 13-year-old student to the floor after a minor disciplinary incident has been revived by a federal appeals court—a rare denial of qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that often shields police from being sued over accusations of misconduct.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, voted 2-1 to revive a civil claim for excessive force on behalf of the 7th grader at a Kissimmee, Fla., middle school. The SRO at Kissimmee Middle School in the Osceola County school district, was Mario J. Badia, who pleaded guilty to a charge of battery after the incident.

The 11th Circuit’s Aug. 22 decision in Richmond v. Badia was a relatively rare denial of qualified immunity to a school resource officer. Courts grant qualified immunity to certain government officials, including police officers, school resource officers, and educators, as long as their challenged conduct does not violate “clearly established” statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. As Education Week has reported, the issue has gained attention in recent years amid high-profile cases of police use of force and because of critiques from U.S. Supreme Court justices and scholars.

What happened between the SRO and student

The 2015 Florida incident involves a student who had arrived at school late one morning with his mother, and they went to the school office to check in, court papers say. The student was wearing a hoodie to conceal a haircut he didn’t like, and his mother told him to remove it because hoodies violated the school dress code. The student appeared to push his mother in response, and a front-desk assistant radioed for the resource officer.

Badia confronted the student, cursing at him and pointing his finger, court papers say. When the student would not look Badia in the eye, the SRO grabbed the student by the face. The student reacted by trying to block Badia’s arm and stepping back, and the SRO then shoved the student in the chest and used an “armbar” technique to lift him off the ground, twist him around, and slam him to the ground.

Badia released the student after about three minutes. The officer was fired and he pleaded guilty to a charge of battery. He reportedly was sentenced to probation.

The student sued Badia on claims of false arrest and excessive force. A federal district court held that Badia was entitled to qualified immunity.

See also

Greeley Police Officer Steve Brown stands in the hallway during passing periods at Northridge High School in Greeley, Colo. on Oct. 21, 2016. While school resource officers, like Brown, are expected to handle responsibilities like any police officer they're faced with unique challenges working day-to-day in schools
Greeley Police Officer Steve Brown stands in the hallway during passing periods at Northridge High School in Greeley, Colo. While school resource officers, like Brown, are expected to handle responsibilities like any police officer, they're faced with unique challenges working day-to-day in schools.
Joshua Polson/The Greeley Tribune/AP
School Climate & Safety Explainer School Resource Officers (SROs), Explained
Stephen Sawchuk, November 16, 2021
13 min read

In the new decision, the 11th Circuit court panel reversed the district court on the excessive-force claim, though not on the false arrest claim.

“We conclude that Badia used excessive force under the Fourth Amendment for three reasons,” Judge Andrew L. Brasher wrote for the majority.

First, the officer had no law-enforcement justification for grabbing the student’s face and slamming him to the ground, the court said, adding that a video of the incident undermined the officer’s claim that the student had been “explosive” and “aggressive.” Second, the student’s potential crime of battery on his mother was at most a misdemeanor, and the student did not pose a threat or attempt to flee the officer, the majority said, and third, the student did not disobey any lawful commands from the officer.

The student “remained passive throughout the entire encounter, never attempted to flee, never refused any lawful commands, and did not pose a threat to Badia or others,” the court said.

Brasher said it was well-established that an officer violates the Fourth Amendment if he or she uses gratuitous or excessive force on a suspect who is under control, is not resisting, and is obeying commands. Thus, Badia did not merit qualified immunity, the court said.

Writing in dissent, Judge Elizabeth L. Branch said Badia’s grabbing of the student’s face was “unnecessary” and “even degrading,” but it was a “de minimis” use of force that did not violate the Constitution.

She characterized the student as having “slapped away” the officer’s arm. The student’s “resistance allowed Badia to escalate his use of force against him,” Branch said.

“The force used against [the student] during the execution of a lawful investigation into a potential crime both before and after he hit Officer Badia’s hand away was minor, not egregious,” the dissenting judge said.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Early Childhood Webinar
How the Science of Reading Elevates Our Early Learners to Success
From the creators of ABCmouse, learn how a solution grounded in the science of reading can prepare our youngest learners for kindergarten.
Content provided by Age of Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
English-Language Learners Webinar
Classroom Strategies for Building EL Students’ Confidence and Success
Fueling success for EL students who are learning new concepts while navigating an unfamiliar language. Join the national discussion of strategies and Q&A.
Content provided by Project Lead The Way
Future of Work Live Online Discussion Seat at the Table: Understanding the Critical Link Between Student Mental Health and the Future of Work
In recent months, there’s been a rallying cry against the teaching of social-emotional skills. Discover why students need these skills now more than ever.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Guidelines Supporting Trans Students Don't Violate Parents' Rights, A Federal Judge Rules
A Maryland U.S. district court judge ruled that a policy to protect trans and non-binary students doesn't violate parents' federal rights.
5 min read
Conceptual image of genders.
Anne-Marie Miller/iStock/Getty
Law & Courts Court Backs Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Clash Over School LGBTQ Bias Policy
A federal appeals court said the San Jose, Calif., school district applied its anti-discrimination policy inconsistently.
4 min read
Scales of justice and Gavel on wooden table and Lawyer or Judge working with agreement in Courtroom, Justice and Law concept.
Pattanaphong Khuankaew/iStock
Law & Courts K-12 Groups Back Racial Diversity as Supreme Court Schedules Affirmative Action Arguments
Teachers' unions and school administrator groups ask the court to uphold the consideration of race to achieve a diverse student body.
5 min read
In this June 8, 2021 photo, with dark clouds overhead, the Supreme Court is seen in Washington.
The U.S. Supreme Court in October will hear arguments in a pair of cases about the consideration of race in college admissions.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Law & Courts In a Chat, Two U.S. Supreme Court Justices Talk Civics, Media Literacy
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Amy Coney Barrett discussed civics education in a recorded interview presented by the Ronald Reagan Institute.
3 min read
Civics Justices 07292022 172183035
iStock/Getty Images Plus